By Joanna Meza
District officials are moving forward with a plan to arm security officers throughout the Rancho Santiago Community College District, reversing a 25-year policy that prevented the employment of armed officers on campus.
The job descriptions and titles for officers were approved at the board of trustees meeting last month. The new policy will initially cost about $500,000, officials said.
The Public Safety Task Force recommended arming officers after reviewing district procedures and policies on confronting active shooters on campus.
Former SAPD Chief Paul Walters introduced the notion of arming specific security personnel to the board a year ago, Claudia Alvarez, board of trustees vice president, said.
There has not been an additional Safety and Security Task Force Committee meeting since October, Associated Student Government President Raquel Manriquez said.
Last year the PSTF, organized by District Chancellor Raul Rodriguez, estimated the cost of implementing armed officers at $1 million.
But estimates in early March revealed that the number is about $432,137, which includes salary increases for the already existing chief and two lieutenants — as well as three new sergeant positions. “This is only the initial cost,” Rodriguez said.
Cuts in other district services would help meet the costs of the new positions, as well as budget and salary cuts in other areas, Rodriguez said.
“Personnel is always changing. As of now, we don’t have all of the money but it will take time,” Rodriguez said.
With a total of six positions, the officers will be required to complete state-mandated courses required to carry firearms, according to the job description.
“Let me assure you we will be having a strict and robust process to make sure only qualified persons are hired and given firearms,” Interim Director of Safety and Security Alistair Winter said. The hiring process will consist of a written exercise, at least two interviews and psychological testing, Winter said.
“We are requiring, even though they will not be fully sworn officers, that they have the same criteria as armed peace officers,” Alvarez said.
Citing rising costs, insufficient training and liabilities, RSCCD voted to disarm its officers in 1989, eliminating their duties as peace officers and their ability to make arrests and carry firearms, choosing instead to rely on the Santa Ana Police Department.
Currently, Irvine Valley College and Saddleback College, both in the South Orange County Community College District, are the only community college campuses in Orange County that have armed officers.
“Our experience has been positive and is supported by the campus communities,” said Tere Fluegeman, SOCCCD director of public affairs and government relations.
“After taking the necessary time to evaluate and make educated decisions on the safety concerns and recommendations, we have finally reached the point where those recommendations should be put into action,” Alvarez said. “It would be irresponsible to do otherwise.”
Former student trustee Alana Voechting says she does not understand the pressing need for armed guards. “I really believe they want to make the campus safe, but I don’t think it was done the right way.”
As it stands, the preference for filling positions would be to hire retired police officers.