The Mt. SAC Board of Trustees officially approved the establishment of the campus police department on Nov. 8, which plans to arm multiple officers despite some concern from faculty and students.
Although the Board recently officially approved the motion, Deputy Chief Robert Wren confirmed that the advancement was already in the works.
"It's been going on a for a long time," Wren said. 'We've been working on this for like two years."
Wren said that Mt. SAC stands to significantly benefit from the shift to the campus police department over-relying on the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, citing that response times to an incident will be dramatically improved.
"If someone is shooting at you guys, you want someone here faster than 10 minutes because 10 minutes is a long time if someone is shooting at you," he said.
The initiative for the police department was proposed by Mt. SAC President Bill Scroggins in September 2016, following a series of Town Hall assembly discussions in the wake of the Santa Monica College and the San Bernardino shootings.
"We had a number of initiatives in place to improve security on campus and it just crystallized that we need to move in this direction," Scroggins said.
In an interview with Sac.Media on Feb. 21, Scroggins said the national situation with campus safety is the worse it's ever been.
"Public Safety Officers walk into situations where they don't know the hazards," Scroggins said. "If something were to go bad, they are not equipped to handle it."
Scroggins added that this is a way to better prepare for the worst scenarios.
"We want to be prepared," Scroggins said. "This is not to say that violence is a problem on campus."
After a series of on-campus town hall meetings and raised concerns from the Academic Senate, Scroggins said they began working and eventually came to an agreement with Mt. SAC's staff union to begin taking the proper steps to creating a police force.
"I suspect by the spring, we will have approval from the state to be officially a state-approved police department," he added.
With the approval from the Board, Campus Safety will now be renamed the Police and Campus Safety Department, with Peace Officer Standards and Training POST certification. Wren provided a summary of how the department has changed and how it will now operate. According to Wren, it is just him, the chief, and two sergeants, who have only been here less than a year.
Currently, Mt. SAC has parking and public safety officers. The new department will include all three—parking, public safety and police officers. There is still an ongoing discussion whether or not public safety officers will carry a concealed weapon.
Mt. SAC will now join other local California community colleges that have campus police departments. Chaffey Community College has their own police department with 13 sworn officers. The department has full powers to arrest any individual and 18 non-sworn support employees. The officers are POST certified and continue their training skills at the San Bernardino County Sheriff Advanced Officer Center. The San Bernardino Community College District maintains sworn and duly-commissioned police officers.
Santa Monica Community College, which suffered a mass shooting on campus in 2013, has also established its own police department with officers who are POST certified.
On June 7, 2013, six people were killed in a shooting at Santa Monica Community College. John Zawahri, the shooter, was a former student at the college, where he killed six and injured four people. He was eventually shot and killed by Santa Monica police officers in the school's library.
The shift to the police force comes in the wake of recent mass shootings, especially on school campuses like Santa Monica's. Wren said having an armed police department will only help in situations where lives are at risk.
"The only way to stop [an active shooter] is to use deadly force," he said.
Professor Kristina Allende, former chair of the English Department, is one of the faculty members who oppose the decision. Allende is not convinced that a police department would limit crime or potentially dangerous situations.
"I think if we look at the campuses in which these crimes are occurring, for example, yesterday at Texas Tech, they carry guns and that happened," she said.
Allende was referring to the death of a campus police officer who was killed by a student Mon., Oct. 9 at Texas Tech University. Allende added that Mt. SAC should be a peaceful campus, but if a situation did occur, the school should rely more on the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department to provide protection.
Previously, Mt. SAC worked with local police authorities via The Working Agreement, a written agreement with local law enforcement agencies that clarify operational responsibilities for investigations of violent crimes, sexual assaults, and hate crimes occurring at Mt. SAC. The agreement expired on June 30, 2017 and was replaced by the Memorandum of Understanding MOU, which was renewed for the duration of July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2022. The MOU was to be used as a guideline when Deputy Sheriffs are assigned to calls for criminal investigations at Mt. SAC, as stipulated from the August 2017, Board of Trustees agenda.
Although the official board vote did not take place until Nov. 8, changes to the public safety department were already underway. The campus safety website had changed its description to the Department of Police/Public Safety. The school had also provided the department with new vehicles decals of the new name change on the cars. The department name had also been changed on all official campus websites, documents like the new schedule of classes and on the campus-wide crime alert messages.
Mt. SAC currently has several open positions for officers who will go through a training process that could take up to 12 months to complete. According to the Mt. SAC HR job posting, requirements for the open officer positions are a high school diploma or a GED and a graduation from a POST Certified academy within the last three years, or employment as a California peace officer at a POST law enforcement agency. POST training is a state mandated, thorough and rigorous process.
"It starts with a background investigation, a psych evaluation, the whole nine yards," Wren said. "It's a pain, it takes forever."
Corey Case, student trustee who represents Mt. SAC students on the Board of Trustees, said it wasn't until after the board had approved the police department that students had expressed disapproval of the change to him.
Wren said that students do not need to worry about unnecessary force or racial profiling from campus police officers as the news and social media has portrayed a skewed perspective of events involving the police.
"I know from 31 years of doing this that [racial profiling] doesn't exist." He clarified that in the past, it may have been a different situation, but not today. "Police brutality is an absolute myth–a complete utter, debunked myth," Wren said.
The change to campus safety is also under fire for its lack of communication about arming officers.
Allende said she was concerned for students who were unaware of the decision to create a police department.
"It has to be communicated," Allende said. "I think, especially because students here are not used to seeing that and seeing that is going to create a reaction."
Wren, however, said that the school has been transparent about the changes.
"Every social media thing that they use on campus, I've seen it," he said.
According to the Police and Public Safety website, the department offers 24-hour personnel duty every day and encourages that, "If you see something, say something" to every person on campus.
The campus will host two Town Hall meetings scheduled for Wednesday, Nov., 29 at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. in the Design Technology Center auditorium to discuss and take questions regarding campus safety and security.
Anonymous questions on issues regarding the topic can be submitted to Carol Nelson at firstname.lastname@example.org.