If you were at Mt. SAC on March 24, you probably remember it. After a bomb threat was made to the campuses of Walnut High School and Mt. SAC, thousands of students, faculty, and staff raced to evacuate as quickly as possible. A horde of pedestrians flooded the streets surrounding the campus as massive lines of cars inched ahead to their homes. For some, it took as long as three hours to escape the traffic. For all, it was a disorganized mess.
If March 24 represents an honest example, it would seem as though Mt. SAC is ill-prepared for large-scale emergencies, like an earthquake or a bomb threat, or worse, like an active shooter situation. To address this, a proposal was introduced by President Bill Scroggins at a recent town-hall meeting to reorganize Mt. SAC's public safety department into a state-certified police department.
Specific to the traffic experienced due to the bomb threat, the reorganization would authorize Mt. SAC's public safety officers to take control of traffic on public streets like Temple and Grand avenues to help ease traffic after a major incident.
But traffic isn't the only concern that fueled the proposal.
"The national situation with campus safety is the worst it's ever been," Scroggins said. "[Public safety officers] walk into situations where they don't know the hazards. If something were to go bad, they are not equipped to handle it."
The proposal is also about putting Mt. SAC in a better position to deal with both natural disasters and human threats if they were to occur.
"We want to be prepared," Scroggins said. "This is not to say that violence is a problem on campus."
The proposal would also introduce new positions for state-certified peace officers who may carry firearms, allow public safety officers the authority to detain someone suspected of a crime, and allow the public safety department to more thoroughly investigate any crimes that occur on campus rather than handing over each case to LA County Sheriffs.
Because the proposal would introduce new positions for employees, the school must first negotiate with the employee union on items such as job descriptions and salaries for the new positions. Scroggins said those negotiations should be reaching a close in the next few weeks.
After that, the school will hold another town-hall meeting announcing the details of the agreement. At the meeting, members of the campus and surrounding communities will be invited to share their concerns for the proposal.
The President's Advisory Council, a section of the Mt. SAC Faculty Association, would then make a recommendation to the school board, who could either approve or reject the proposal.
Though the proposal was made with the safety of students in mind, not all students support the idea of more public safety officers carrying firearms on campus.
Arlyne Acevedo, a 20-year-old journalism and Spanish double-major, was robbed at gunpoint by a man while working in her family's jewelry store. Still, she thinks the reorganization wouldn't make much of a difference for average students like her.
"It's not like at my job there's a panic button and public safety's just gonna come in two seconds," Acevedo said, who also works on campus. "I don't find it necessary. We're at a school. To me, it's like what's the point of carrying a gun around?"
The Faculty Association has also recently taken a stance in opposition of the reorganization. However, not all members of the FA agree with that stance. James Jenkins, dean of humanities and social sciences, supports the proposal.
"The world itself continues to change," Jenkins said, who worked as a police officer for the Pomona Police Department before becoming a professor. "I, personally, would rather have trained people who know how to use [firearms] who have those if they need them."
Jenkins also said that there are a lot of dangerous situations that happen on campus that are not brought to attention because they are handled so well by public safety officers, who often come from law enforcement backgrounds.
Robert Wren, the Deputy Chief of Public Safety, said that the reorganization would be another step toward making the campus safer.
"You and your parents, I think, have a reasonable expectation when they're sending you to this school, we're taking reasonable steps to make it safe," Wren said, who worked for the Orange County Sheriff's Department for 28 years before coming to Mt. SAC. "So that's kind of what [the proposal is] for. It's a logical progression to make the place more safe."
Scroggins also pointed out that reorganizing public safety into a police force would only be part of a larger plan to make the campus safer.
He added that the school has already replaced door locks in classrooms with locks more ideal for active shooter situations, set up an improved radio communications system so that all members of the campus can communicate during an emergency, and placed more closed-circuit video surveillance cameras around the campus to help identify any suspicious individuals.
Wren also added that if the proposal were to be approved, there would not be an immediate increase in armed officers walking around the campus.
"As far as students, what they see […] the look will be generally the same: guys in uniform driving around in patrol cars," Wren said.
Scroggins noted that he believes the current plan is to have about one armed peace officer on duty at all times, with more on campus as needed.
Currently, public safety officers only have authority on school property. After the bomb threat, public safety officers were forced to wait for Los Angeles County Sheriffs, who Scroggins said had already been dispatched to Walnut High School, or Cal Poly Pomona's public safety department to arrive and assist with redirecting traffic surrounding the campus.
Jenkins said that becoming a state-certified police force would also allow Mt. SAC access to the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System, a statewide database connecting information from sources such as the California DOJ, DMV, and the National Crime Information Center.
Candidates for the new positions must earn or already hold POST certification. POST, or the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training, is a state program that sets the standards for selecting and training peace officers.
Candidates, according to Wren, must also undergo a thorough background check, psychological and medical evaluation, and must either pass a POST-certification course, which would require completing a police academy as well as extensive firearm training, or have already been a police officer before applying.
Currently, public safety officers are hired through the same process as any other Mt. SAC employee: an interview and a fingerprint background check.
Though the bomb threat last March highlighted some of the weaknesses of public safety's current structure, Wren said that this proposal is about more than just one incident.
"Protecting the students, faculty, and staff is really what it comes down to," he said.
However, not everyone is convinced that having a police force rather than a public safety department will make a difference.
"I don't know, I just don't see a point to it," Acevedo said.