Oregon prison officers can be armed on commute

SALEM, Ore. — Starting next month, correctional officers can be armed as they commute to work at Oregon’s prisons, and the Department of Corrections plans to install gun lockers so the officers don’t have to leave weapons in their vehicles.

Officers have said they are worried about their personal safety and have been asking for an exception to state law that generally forbids workers other than members of the police or military to bring weapons onto state property.

In 2011, Officer Buddy Herron was killed on his way to work in Eastern Oregon when he stopped to offer help to a stranded driver, who stabbed him to death and stole his truck.

A law that takes effect June 6 allows corrections officers with concealed handgun licenses to keep guns secured in their cars if the department does not provide lockers.

The Department of Corrections says it is working on plans to install gun lockers in each of its 14 facilities by early June.

The Legislature passed the law in late February, but gave the department 90 days to work out how it would be implemented.

“It accomplishes our goal of letting them carry weapons on the way to work,” said Don Loving, a lobbyist for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents the officers.

Loving said they intend to begin carrying weapons in their cars as soon as the law allows it, whether the lockers are in place or not.

The department is drafting a policy about the weapons and is trying to determine how it will pay for the gun lockers, expected to cost $70,000, spokeswoman Liz Craig said last week. She said the department will “make it work one way or the other.”

“We feel that for us to install lockers … that presents the least amount of liability issues,” Craig said, noting that the department had considered other options, such as designating an area of the parking lot for cars in which guns are stored.

Craig cited a letter Gov. John Kitzhaber submitted when he signed the law April 1. Kitzhaber pointed out that the law made no appropriation for the lockers and does not cover other state employees at corrections facilities, such as parole board members. Craig said the department plans to address his concerns in 2015.

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