The Allan Hancock College Board of Trustees has decided to keep its police force on campus, and increase its financial support of the department.
Trustees spent more than a year arriving at such a decision, in large part because of the contentious nature of the move, allowing plenty of time for a public debate about the efficacy of having a police presence on campus.
There was a little foot-dragging on the college’s part, which heightened the contentious nature of the debate. The college’s former police chief wrote a 14-page assessment of the existing department’s needs and turned it in to the board late last year. Unfortunately, the board decided to sit on the report until just last week.
The net result of such reticence is that some members of the public became suspicious of what the report contained. The unnecessary delay put more heat in the debate than may have been needed.
As it turns out, the report dealt primarily with leadership issues within the department, and the fact that members of the Hancock College Police Department are among the lowest-paid law-enforcement officials on the Central Coast.
Whether valid or not, the low-pay issue raises questions about overall competency.
In the end, the board decided to keep the force intact, and bolster it with an extra $200,000, and perhaps more, that will be funneled into salary increases, the purchase of newer equipment and various other departmental improvements.
Those upgrades will likely improve the campus Police Department, but as some critics have pointed out, steers the college away from its core purpose, which is offering relatively low-cost, two-year degrees to local young people who can’t afford a traditional four-year university education.
One such critic spoke at this week’s board meeting at which the decision was made to keep the police presence on campus, saying, "Let's be mindful that we're a community college. What kind of message does it send to our students when we have a visible police presence on campus. Does it create a welcoming environment for our community?”
A valid question, given that community college campus violence is fairly rare in this country.
The decision to keep the armed force at Hancock mirrors a national trend toward defending against, rather than reacting to acts of violence, especially with regard to mass shootings. That trend is leading more government jurisdictions to relax rules about weapons being carried by responsible, law-abiding citizens.
We’ve written often about a fully-armed society — it seems only logical that if everyone has a gun, and the shooting starts, innocent people are going to be in the crossfire.
Having said that, we also recognize the level of violence is ramping up in America, or at least that is the perception. The inclination is toward arming more people who can, in theory, thwart mass shootings. How that theory plays out remains to be seen.
But the college board made the decision to stay the course on having its own police force, and it now is incumbent upon those leaders to make sure the advice offered by the former chief is followed — strengthen the department’s leadership. That means spending money on something that has little or nothing to do with the college’s core mission of educating local young people.
In a very real way it’s sad to think we’ve reached such a point in our development as a society.