Arming security at San Mateo County’s three community colleges is a possibility being explored by the district, local law enforcement and members of the community, spurred by recent incidents of campus violence throughout the nation and state, according to district officials.
The decision to conduct a study was made following last year’s attack at Umpqua Community College, which does not have armed security, and further fueled when violence hit as close to home as Sacramento City College. Although the San Mateo County Community College District Board of Trustees works closely with local law enforcement, it is currently one of two such districts in the Bay Area without armed security, leading officials to wonder if following suit would better prepare their campuses for a worst-case scenario.
“The study will do an analysis of trends both nationwide and throughout the state,” said Jose Nunez, vice chancellor of the San Mateo County Community College District. “It will include discussion with local law enforcement, as well as with the district and college executive teams, staff, students and local community. The study will look at issues associated with insurance liabilities, training of officers, one-time and ongoing cost, etc.”
More than a simple yes or no question of whether to arm security will be considered. If the Board of Trustees determines it would be the best route for the district to take, it will then need to decide how to implement it.
The study will look at examples statewide and nationally to assess what would be most appropriate locally. The highest level of security is exemplified at California’s public universities that have accredited police departments on campus. Other institutions have armed security with varying degrees of responsibility and authority, some with peace officer powers and some who operate as security guards. One option may be to arm members of the district’s 25-person security department, some of whom are retired police officers who have had firearms training. District officials say they will also be looking into ways to further coordinate with local law enforcement, which could mean having local police operate as school resource officers on campus.
“We’re going to examine all of those levels, and we’re going to look at the training that is needed for all of those different things,” said Rob Dean, the district’s interim director of public safety. ”Firearms proficiency is a perishable skill. It’s what a police officer uses the least and needs to practice with the most. It’s not at all how Hollywood depicts it, trust me.”
In Dean’s opinion, school resource officers make a lot of sense.
“They get used to seeing that officer there, and they become part of the community, part of the fabric,” Dean said.
He noted that in preliminary discussions, local law enforcement were open to considering the option of school resource officers. San Mateo Police Chief Susan Manheimer said the department would welcome the opportunity to work more closely with College of San Mateo, but she and district Chancellor Rob Galatolo both noted there would be technicalities and costs associated with that option to be taken into account.
“We remain open to providing a school resource officer on the campus if that is the final determination of the board, and there would certainly be great value in that,” Manheimer said. “However, should they choose a different security plan, we will still be an integral part of their overall safety and security plan as we do provide patrol and response to their campus and community.”
The purpose of the study, according to Dean and Nunez, is not to make a recommendation, but to present a full information report to the Board of Trustees and begin a dialogue about the best route to take in the beginning of May.
“I’m hopeful that we’re going to present a complete, comprehensive report and have a great conversation,” Dean said.