In the quest to assure campuses are safe for students, teachers, staff and the community, college officials implemented a variety of security measures while exploring a proposal to hire armed security officers.
The San Mateo Community College District Board of Trustees examined the campus safety protocol during a meeting Wednesday, July 24, and agreed to further study additional improvements over the coming months.
The discussion comes in the wake of a report from an independent consultant hired to examine the district’s existing policies and recommend ways to assure campuses are kept safe.
A district report indicated 42 of the 71 recommendations in the study from consultant Margolis-Healy have been implemented or pursued, while the most notable proposal to hire armed school resource officers hangs in the balance.
For his part, Trustee Dave Mandelkern said he appreciated the variety of initiatives already adopted by the district, while keeping an open mind to the possibility of hiring an armed, sworn officer from local police departments.
“I think it is important to keep the big picture in mind as we look at this,” said Mandelkern.
Student resource officers are the functions of arrangements often made between school districts and local police departments in which a sworn officer with a service weapon is assigned to manage campus crime prevention. The model is most common on high school campuses, though not uncommon for college campuses as well. The district currently has public safety officers, who keep a relationship with local police departments but are not armed.
Hiring a resource officer was recommended in the consultant’s report, but officials rejected the proposal last year. But for her part, board Vice President Karen Schwarz too said she favored further exploration.
“We thought this might be a good benefit for the district,” she said. “Let’s not rule it out until we know more about it.”
Schwarz is on the safety subcommittee alongside board President Maurice Goodman charged with reviewing the proposal and bringing their findings back to the board later this year.
Trustee Richard Holober said he too favored investigating the proposal further.
“We left open the exploration of other options and the [student resource officer] is one that is of greatest interest to the board,” he said. “We would want to learn more about how that would work. It is something that has worked well in high schools and might be very appropriate for us.”
Campus safety issues were the focus of a San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury report in 2016, when enhanced regulations and policies were recommended to assure school facilities are prepared for the threat of violence, or natural disaster.
Since then, district officials established security improvements such as developing a communications dispatch center, hiring an emergency manager, improving the emergency alert system, offering more response training, ramping up collaboration with local police departments and more.
For his part, Mandelkern lauded the variety of steps taken over the past few years to assure campus safety protocol is kept up to date.
“I’m pleased to see the progress in implementation,” he said, recognizing the district campuses are very safe places for students generally.
Mandelkern said he supported such initiatives with confidence they will go far to assuring students, staff and the greater community are kept safe when visiting the school sites.
He also balanced that perspective by questioning the need for an armed law enforcement officer on campuses, noting the difference between college campuses and high school sites which are often more concentrated and easier for a single officer to patrol.
“I want to look at things that have shown a demonstrated positive impact on these sites, not just things that make people feel good,” he said.
Ultimately though, Mandelkern said he favored further exploration of the matter and would support any program proven to make a significant difference in achieving a primary mission for the district — preserving student safety.
“We know this is a very serious issue,” he said.
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