A campus police officer's utility belt supplies two batons, a radio, handcuffs and pepper spray.
PHOTO BY MELISSA MA / GUARDSMAN
Before class at City College's South East campus, two female students in the juvenile high school program, one 16 and the other 17 years old, chatted about braiding hair. Upon being called into the classroom, the younger girl accidentally shoulder checked the other.
According to the responding campus officer Jose Fiscal, it was at that moment that this incident took life.
The older girl, feeling disrespected, stared at the other girl, seething inwardly. She approached her offender and threatened to fight her.
"I don't fight anymore," the 16-year-old replied, unfazed by the verbal assault. Then, according to Fiscal, she calmly reached into her backpack and brandished a 14" butcher knife. "I just stab people.”
Fiscal said the older girl backed away when threatened.
"You don't know me," she yelled, pointing the knife. "I'll stab you."
A quick-thinking security guard saw the knife and pulled the 17 year old out of the room, slamming the door shut and gripping the doorknob as the girl thrashed at the door trying to get to her prey.
Officer Fiscal stated that when he arrived on the scene, he was briefed by the guard. By then, the 16 year old had calmed down. She was booked for assault with a deadly weapon, possession of a knife on campus and terrorist threats.
City College's Chief of Police Carl S. Koehler has created a proposal called "Arming the Community College Police Department," which details the reasons why his officers should be armed like the San Francisco Police Department. Koehler thinks that unarmed officers are at a huge disadvantage, though reports of armed assaults have declined slightly in recent years while theft and vandalism are on the rise.
"There are a variety of reasons why it's necessary to arm our officers," Chief Koehler said. "Some of our campuses are located in high-crime areas and most of the campuses have public access. Take Ocean campus — people can walk in from surrounding areas and, if it's their desire, they can prey on the population here. Our officers are not armed to deal with this."
The San Francisco Community College Police Department, an adjunct of the SFPD, became an accredited agency of the California Commission on Peace Officer's Standards & Training in 2001 through a vote by the board of trustees. The board voted that the campus police should not carry firearms because at the time it didn't seem necessary.
Part way through 2006, over 315 incidents have been recorded in the police logs. 14 were reported as assaults. Six of those involved weapons.
The only other Bay Area college without armed police officers is Napa Valley College. Chief Koehler believes armed officers deter students and others from bringing weapons onto campus.
Campus police are called on to respond to a wide array of incidents. According to City College police logs, individuals under the influence on drugs can be very difficult to subdue if they resist arrest, especially for police armed only with their current tools — batons and pepper spray — which may have little effect.
"That's not enough," student David Hale said. "I have been hit by a baton before, and it doesn't hurt all that much."
Paris Fields, also a student, said "Police should be armed to an extent. I think that it would be more disruptive for a bunch of cops to be running around with guns than for students to be.”
Nationwide, 98 percent of the campus police agencies that serve 20,000 or more students use sworn officers, averaging 1.5 sworn officers per 1000 students. City College has over 100,000 students and a police force consisting of the Chief of Police, three sergeants, 33 sworn peace officers, 10 security officers and a dozen student police officers.
"There are student officers and security officers that assist the SFCCPD who are not going to be armed," Chief Koehler said. "I feel I need to make this clear. Only the police officers who have the same training as the SFPD would be allowed to carry firearms, and only after additional training."
His proposal to arm the SFCCPD clearly states the pros and cons of campus police carrying weapons, and offers options for less-than-lethal arming methods.
"Things in the community college district move slowly," Chief Koehler said. "I will be meeting with the different student bodies and governing bodies of the district to do an education proposal around this issue. I started meeting with these people last semester and I will do this again for the fall semester. Whatever time it takes it go through this process, we will do it."