A loaded question: Will armed security protect campus?

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The San Mateo Community College District has commissioned a study this year
that will look into the possibility of arming security guards on district campuses. Skyline does not currently have armed security and for now will use other measures to keep the campus secure.

The Skyline College Department of Public Safety’s current responsibilities include compiling crime statistics and escorting students and faculty to their transportation if they feel unsafe. Guards currently carry handcuffs, batons, and pepper spray yet no concealed weapons.

Districts throughout the nation have been considering such measures as having armed security in the wake of mass shootings, particularly the shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon in October. They did not have armed security.

There have been concerns over whether or not arming guards with guns would make college campuses like Skyline safer. Meetings occurred last year concerning this potential dilemma.

In a meeting in Oct. 15 2015, the discussion of whether to arm California community colleges came up as part of the agenda. According to the statistics given in the meeting by Rob Dean, Chief Public Safety Officer at College of San Mateo, 80 percent of California community colleges have armed security, all 23 California State Universities have armed security and all University of California campuses (except Hastings Law School) have armed security. He also noted that 92 percent of public institutions and 38 percent of private
institutions nationwide employ sworn officers, and 95 percent of these are armed.

Alternate ways to equip the campus with armed security were also discussed. One suggestion was to have an officer from the San Bruno Police Department stationed on the campus and another was to establish a police department on campus.

Both options are costly. A third suggestion to have chiefs and supervisors currently employed in Public Safety become armed appeared to be the most reasonable, in terms of cost.

Administrators have considered arming security guards on campus and are in the
process of doing studies to see possible benefits. So far the sister campuses of Skyline do not have armed security either. Skyline has trained officers that are Police Officer Standards and Training certified, which has been required for all new hires since 2009.

One of the other issues which may come up if weapons become part of security such as guns, is liability. Each state is responsible for their requirements to arm security, there are no federal training standards for guards California Bill SB-486 addresses the issue of liability. Liability is usually based on one’s judgment, and a part of this bill requires applicants to pass a mental health examination before becoming armed in California.

This bill takes effect in July 2017.

Officials asked for comment stressed that the study is yet to be delivered, and that the process is just beginning. Jim Vangeles, head of Skyline’s Department of Public Safety, said “It would be premature and possibly inaccurate for me to comment on conjecture at this stage.”

“We have hired a consultant who is assembling a team that will conduct the
study,” said District Chancellor Ron Galatolo. “We do not know how long it will take; we want to be thorough and allow enough time for students, faculty and staff to discuss the results before a decision is made.”

An email was sent out to the SMCCCD faculty by Kathy Blackwood, Executive Vice
Chancellor of the SMCCCD as well, in order to guide the research process for the security discussion by the fall. The goal, as stated in the email, is maintaining safe campuses.

The email also stated that “the committee’s first step is to develop a Request for Proposal (RFP) this spring in order to engage an experienced consultant familiar with campus safety issues to help guide the committee
through the review process, compile data on best practices, and ultimately, with everyone’s input, produce a study which will include all options (pros and cons).”

The study itself will pertain to the present level of safety on all campuses in order establish how to go forward for the best course of action for security. The research is supposed to begin in late spring and through
the summer, with the committee working together.

The decision to have armed security is being evaluated thoroughly and no rush decisions are being made.

“We’re at the very beginning stages of embarking on a district-wide study; no
decisions have been made,” said Skyline College Spokeswoman Cherie Colins in an email. “President Stroud is looking forward to opening up the conversation for students, faculty and staff to participate in the process of the study. In order to ensure the safety of our campus communities, we are exploring all options for our 3-college district.”

Having armed security has the potential to be very beneficial in schools. A study published in the School Psychology International in 2011 said “having armed officers appears to reduce crime in their assigned schools”.

A study conducted by justicepolicy.org had a different conclusion. Their study found “as the presence of law enforcement in schools has increased, arrests and referrals to the juvenile justice system generally have increased.”

“One of the things I try to stress is, this is not a police state,” Skyline College President Regina Stanback Stroud said. “In other words we are not
trying to militarize or make it heavy police. We are trying to make sure people understand they have public safety and that they are their advocates.”