When City College of San Francisco police suspect a person with a weapon may be on campus, officers typically call in the San Francisco Police Department for backup.
That's because CCSF is one of just two of California's 69 community colleges with sworn officers who aren't armed. Though trained and licensed by state law to use firearms, CCSF police instead carry two types of batons and pepper spray. And that has been the case at least since the agency transitioned from a security department in 2001.
CCSF lacks a policy regarding why campus officers have been unarmed for more than a decade. Recent concern for campus safety has prompted the administration to question whether it's time to create such a policy, although there are no immediate plans for a formal discussion on the topic.
In response to a question at a listening session on Sept. 5 about whether the public-safety department is staffed, trained and equipped to respond to subjects with weapons on campus, Chancellor Art Tyler said it might be time for a conversation about whether to arm campus police.
“Is that the most preferred way to do business? Probably not,” Tyler said of the current practice of calling The City's police officers when a person with a weapon is reported on campus.
“One of the things that perhaps we should do is have a discussion through the participatory governance process to determine whether or not we should continue the way we are and whether or not that unarmed status for our police officers is satisfactory,” he said.
Between 2009 and February, there have been 37 incidents reported to school police on or near campus that would merit the response of an armed officer, CCSF police Officer Tiffany Green said.
Two recent incidents involving an armed suspect on or adjacent to campus — on Sept. 11, in which a male with an arrest warrant was found to have a weapon, and on Aug. 27, involving a male with a knife — were handled by CCSF police without calling San Francisco police, Green said.
The only other community college in the state with an unarmed, sworn police department is at Pasadena City College. In 2012, the Cerritos College Campus Police Department became the most recent sworn agency at a California community college to arm its officers.
“[The chancellor] feels like there is a conversation to be had, [but] we don't yet have a process for that conversation,” CCSF spokesman Jeff Hamilton said about the question of whether to arm campus police. “We are looking at what would be [that] process, and asking the community and wanting to put it out there, [and] getting some feedback from folks.”
Hamilton emphasized that any discussion regarding whether to arm campus police would involve the participatory governance process and said that no such conversation has been scheduled. School officials estimate the initial startup cost to arm campus police would be $20,000 to $30,000.
CCSF Police Chief Andre Barnes said talks of arming police are nothing new, especially given that the school is located on an urban campus.
“This has been an ongoing conversation since 2001” when the department began hiring sworn officers, Barnes said. “That question has always been out there.”
Arming the CCSF Police Department's 28 sworn members — which includes the chief, a lieutenant, four sergeants and 22 officers — could help make the campus safer for everyone, including police, Barnes said.
“It's important for us to be able to respond appropriately to calls for services,” Barnes said. “We have had incidents where our officers have come across individuals with weapons, [and] we've had armed robberies, both on and around the campus.”
“In order for us to respond not only for us to assist our campus community members, we also want to make sure our officers are responding in a safe manner to protect themselves,” he said.
Alisa Messer, past president of CCSF's faculty union American Federation of Teachers Local 2121, said recent events involving officer-involved shootings — such as the March fatal shooting of Alejandro Nieto by San Francisco police, the shooting death of Michael Brown by police in Ferguson, Mo., in August — as well as a March 13 protest at CCSF in which protesters and police were injured — raise concerns that the presence of armed officers could lead to instances of police brutality.
“The idea of talking about campus safety and having lethal weapons in that conversation is very worrisome to our students and to our faculty,” Messer said. “Of course we want a safe campus. We're not convinced that's the way to make a safer campus.”
Wendy Kaufmyn, a professor at CCSF, said she believes the chancellor was “testing the waters” by questioning whether to arm campus police at the listening session this month.
Kaufmyn said she plans to introduce a resolution opposing arming campus police at the school's Academic Senate meeting on Oct. 1.