News

CCSF college police department battle challenges of being understaffed

By Cliff Fernandes

cferna44@mail.ccsf.edu

 

     Hoping to interact with the Ocean Campus community for National Coffee With a Cop Day, City College police on Oct. 3 greeted the droves of students filing through Ram Plaza.

The top question, acting Chief of Police Jason Wendt discovered, was “We have a police department?”

City College’s public safety department, comprised of 36 employees, is currently looking to hire six field officers and two sergeants. The lieutenant is currently also the acting chief of police.

The campus police staff only has 75 percent of the field officers it needs, so they have their schedules constantly rotated and often work overtime. The department receives, on average, 350 telephone calls per operational day, which generally take 15 seconds to a minute per call.

The police have to patrol a large area. City College. Counting the Ocean Campus and 10 other locations, City College encompasses more than 2 million square feet spread across San Francisco.

“The lower the staffing goes, the more we’re asking them to come here to support our mission,” Chief of Police Jason Wendt said. “Nobody wants a stressed out officer when they’re already in distress, so we try to find that balance.”

 

Although the department is currently short 25 percent of its field officers, it sometimes takes qualified applicants a year to become active after passing their examinations. After at least two rounds of examinations, field officer applicants require six months of police academy training, and six to eight weeks of Field Training Operations that are specific to City College.

A Day in the Force

 

On any given day at Ocean Campus, three or four officers work the morning shift, and fewer work the later shift as student numbers dwindle. The former are stationed at from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., and the latter from 2 p.m. to midnight.

Each shift, one officer is stationed at their designated satellite center, most of which have one building, less civilian traffic and fewer entry and exit points.

 

However, if the department does not have enough field officers to station at the satellite centers for a second shift, Ocean Campus must dispatch its own stationed officers to compensate, Officer Danny Lim said.

 

As a result, officers who were assigned to cover one campus for one year often divide their shifts between two campuses. For situations that are urgent or distant from Ocean Campus, they may also call the San Francisco Police Department for backup.

 

Understaffing becomes a much greater issue, however, when problems arise. Following procedure, the Ocean Campus dispatch always sends out field officers in twos when police call in a problem.

 

“We lack the proper equipment, so there are some instances where we may require just one officer to respond. [Even so,] we have to send two, or maybe three due to the circumstances of the event,” Sergeant Gaytan said.

 

Reinforcements may be called for crowd control, or if a situation escalates.

 

Most incidents, however, involve petty theft and traffic violations, which are recorded in the SFPD database. If campus police were equipped with tools such as firearms or tasers, however, Gaytan said they could only have to send one officer when dealing with minor disputes.

 

Dealing With Guns

 

Because they do not have guns, campus police are not meant to confront an active shooter. Instead, they gather information, prepare building floor plans and relay it all to SFPD.

 

“We have calls where there is a simple dispute, and all of a sudden, an arrest [reveals] they had weapons — knives, brass knuckles, guns,” Sergeant Gaytan said. “We’ve been taking guns from people.”

 

City College police undergo firearms training as part of their police academy training, but they are not equipped with guns or tasers.

 

While they are armed with pepper spray, batons and handcuffs, campus police have found that employing de-escalation techniques through speech has been largely successful in preventing crime. Every situation is completely different, Wendt said.

“How responsive is that person talking to an officer? We’ve taken on people with guns and knives before, and just talking to them has de-escalated [the situation],” Wendt added.

 

A 2011 – 2012 Department of Justice study found that 94 percent of 173 public colleges with 15,000 or more students had armed their police officers with guns. Proponents of arming campus officers state that it would help prevent tragedies like the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting.

 

At the same time, police brutality has been recorded and distributed across the internet in recent years, creating a national social climate that has become wary of arming police with guns. In an October 2014 op-ed, Elissa Parrino and Charles Innis referenced the killing of City College student Alex Nieto, who SFPD shot at 59 times.

 

We are basing our decision on arming campus police off of tragedy,” they stated. “What crimes and violations usually occur at City College? Phone theft, illegal parking and smoking in undesignated areas. Do any of these need lethal enforcement?”

 

Chief of Police

 

One advocate for arming campus police was Andre Barnes, who retired his position as City College’s chief of police in July 2017. In January 2018, Wendt, who was a lieutenant and the highest ranking officer in the department, was assigned to fill in Barnes’s job.

 

In turn, he is required to perform both jobs’ full descriptions during his regular working hours.

 

“It’s a lot more work. I’m still responsible for all the administrative issues that happen around here… addressing the things that come from top-down,” Wendt said. “They come through, and then I have disseminate them out, as well as the things that come from bottom up.”

 

City College is currently developing a comprehensive job description for the chief of police position, Media Relations Director Connie Chan said.

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