Saturday, July 9, 2016
Report says better school safety system needed: San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury calls on community colleges to beef up campus security
Unreliable communications and inadequate training, specifically to address the threat of a mass shooting, are among the issues identified by the San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury affecting public safety officers on San Mateo County Community College District campuses.
Improvements are necessary to assure the safety of the more than 26,000 students who populate the district comprised of the College of San Mateo, as well as Skyline and Cañada colleges, according to the civil grand jury report published Tuesday, July 5.
Though crime is rare relative to the amount of students and staff who frequent the campuses, the district public safety officers who rely on assistance from local law enforcement to keep the peace need additional resources to be best prepared for the worst-case scenario, according to the report.
“The grand jury found that although on-campus crime is ‘minimal,’ there are significant communications and preparedness gaps that should be addressed,” according to the report.
Safety services on the campus are provided by district workers who are unarmed and not authorized police officers. In the case of an emergency, public safety officers would call the local law enforcement agency for assistance. San Mateo police offer support on the College of San Mateo campus, while San Bruno police serve Skyline College and the county Sheriff’s Office assists with calls to Cañada College.
Such a system depends on safety officers contacting law enforcement using either a cellphone or radio, both of which devices were identified as potentially unreliable in the report due to spotty coverage in the remote regions where the campuses are located.
The district needs to come up with an improved, more dependable means of establishing communications between the public safety officers and the police departments or county’s Sheriff’s Office, according to the report.
“The grand jury recommended that the college district coordinate communications among its campuses and also work with local police to develop a better communications system, or work with mobile phone carriers to resolve ‘dead spots.’ Improvements should be in place by summer of 2017,” according to the report.
The grand jury holds no power to enforce its recommendations, but district officials must respond to report findings within two months. District officials did not respond to inquiries for comment on the report. However, district officials have preemptively taken to addressing the shortcomings of the existing campus safety protocol, and are expected to release the results in a study due at the end of the year, according to the report.
Campus public safety officers would benefit from additional training opportunities alongside law enforcement professionals as well, according to the report, in an effort to ensure the most recent and effective public safety strategies are being employed.
Safety protocol often differs between the two groups, according to the report, and more collaboration would go far to assuring all parties are on the same page.
“Training, including class, exercises and debriefing would better ensure coordination during emergencies,” according to the report.
A necessary training would be preparing against the threat of large-scale tragedy, such as a mass shooting on a district campus, according to the report.
One such event was held on the Cañada College campus in 2014, according to the report, in which hundreds of people and law enforcement officers came together to develop a strategy in the case of an active shooter opening fire at a district school.
But a similar training has not taken place since, according to the report, and no plans are in the works to hold one, despite the calls of some public safety officers.
“The grand jury is not aware of any training or other exercises currently planned between local law enforcement and campus security personnel,” according to the report. “Many of the SMCCCD officials and [public safety officers] expressed an interest in having additional interaction with local law enforcement.”
In all, campus security would benefit from increased collaboration between law enforcement professionals and the district public safety officers, according to the report.
“The grand jury concludes that it would be prudent to have regular and increased training between local law enforcement, other regional emergency responders and campus public safety to ensure that all agencies are thoroughly prepared to work together in the event of a major natural or man-made disaster,” according to the report.
Visit sanmateocourt.org/grandjury to read the full report.
July 6, 2016
San Mateo Daily Journal
By Austin Walsh