Arming Safety Officers

Shooters / With hands above their heads, students and staff evacuate Santa Monica College after a shooting spree that left at least seven dead, including a gunman, in June of 2013, in Santa Monica. The shooter was killed by Santa Monica police officers. / Robert Gauthier / TNS

In response to high profile school shootings across the nation, district officials explore lifting a 25-year-old policy that banned campus security personnel from carrying firearms

By Jovany Leon

Because of high profile school shootings across the nation, district officials are considering re-arming college safety officers.

The Safety and Security committee explored arming and training current safety officers, or hiring former officers with experience in dealing with active shooters.

The committee met for the first time Oct. 15 to look at how the district is preparing in the event of an active shooting at any of its facilities, Board of Trustee member and Safety Committee Chair Claudia Alvarez said.

Since the elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn., where 26 students and staff were killed in December 2012, there have been 92 school shootings. Of those, 44 occurred at college campuses, the most recent on Nov. 20 at Florida State University, where three people were injured, according to the website Everytown for Gun Safety.

“It was important to not only know what other campuses were doing, but it was important to get complete data of how we could improve,” Alvarez said.

Irvine Valley College and Saddleback College are the only community college campuses in Orange County that have armed officers.

Citing costs and insufficient training, RSCCD voted in 1989 to disarm its safety officers, eliminate their duties as police officials allowed to make arrests and carry a firearm, and instead rely on the Santa Ana Police Department.

The training for campus officers at the time was a minimum of 40 hours, compared to the 700 hours that SAPD officers were required to undergo.

The escalating costs of training incoming officers at $36,000 per year, and starting salaries of $44,000, led RSCCD to disarm its safety officers.

At Santa Ana College, ASG Environmental Awareness Commissioner Kyle Murphy attended the Oct. 15 meeting when former SAPD Chief Paul Walters gave a presentation to committee members about how the district can improve campus safety.

“His professional recommendation was that if staff had an unlimited amount [of money], that they have a full-blown police force,” Murphy said.

The cost to upgrade the safety officers would be $1.1 to $1.2 million per year, Walters said.

The money would go into the hiring of experienced safety officers as well as training for all current safety officers.

Walters recommended the district hire six armed and sworn officers, one new safety officer and dispatcher for Santiago Canyon College, as well as a new sergeant at SAC, SCC and the Centennial Education Center.

“The costs to arm and train safety officers given by Walters appeared to be inflated,” Alvarez said.

Murphy is against the recommendation of arming safety officers with lethal weapons in the event a student might be armed with a knife or other weapon.

“I don’t think the first reaction [by an officer] would be shoot to kill or even shoot to make someone bleed,” Murphy said. Among the complications, he noted, was that the district is “going to have to bring psychiatric services to any student that was around.”

If approved by the board of trustees, both safety and armed officers would receive extra training on how to handle a firearm and the laws of arrest through the Orange County Sheriff’s Academy, director of Safety and Security Alistair Winter said.

“The officers will be better trained. My hope and desire is that they perform better in terms of their duties,” Winter said.

Any implementation of new policies regarding arming and training campus safety officers will take time.

“We are trying to do this in phases, and trying to do this progressively,” Alvarez said.



More than  90 campus shootings have occurred since the Newton, Conn. tragedy that killed 26 people.
76 Percent of school shootings in which one or more people were injured
25 Percent of school shootings in which one or more people were killed
48 Percent of school shootings that took place on a college campus
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