A long-simmering debate about whether or not to purchase long rifles for the Southwestern College campus police is moving back to the front burner following the hiring of a new campus police chief and progress on a college emergency plan.
Chief Michael Cash said he is doing an evaluation of the campus police department to determine whether officers need rifles.
“I will make recommendations off of what I think is safest for students, faculty and staff,” said Cash. “I take it to heart that when any student or faculty steps on this property their well being is my first priority.”
Cash said he wants officers to have what they need.
“If I’m going to put my life on the line I want to make sure that our people have the best equipment to stop whatever is going to come across, because if we don’t we’re not of service to anyone here,” he said.
Campus police currently use Glock .40 caliber handguns. SWC is the only college police force in the county that does not have rifles or tasers, according to Campus Police Sergeant Robert Sanchez.
With handguns officers have to be within 100 yards of a target, Sanchez said, compared to rifles able to shoot from up to 1,000 yards.
Larry Lambert, online instructional support specialist, said campus police need long rifles. With the recent series of campus shooters, the rifles could help the police disable suspects from a distance, he said.
“The one thing that we’re still very vulnerable for is if we have an active shooter on campus right now,” said Lambert. “Response is quick from local police, but once they’re on campus they need to get organized and find out where the shooter is, which takes time.”
Sanchez said the cost of rifles, training for officers, bulletproof vests specialized for rifles and helmets could approach $50,000.
A number of campus employees have expressed opposition to the plan.
“I’m firmly against the purchase of high-powered rifles on this campus,” said Professor of Learning Skills Corina Soto. “When the assessment is done it needs to include the opinion of faculty, staff and students on the campus. It also needs to include input from the community, neighbors from this area and the Chula Vista Police Department. Our police department doesn’t exist in a vacuum. They’re answerable to the community that’s on campus.”
Soto said she also thinks it is important for SWC to have an emergency plan in effect before moving forward with purchasing rifles. She said if the priority of campus police is safety then “they should take care of campus safety first, then address high-powered rifles.”
“They’re emphasizing a shooter,” she said, “but we’re more in danger of there being an earthquake, or fire, or a hazardous material spill and they’re not taking any of those things seriously.”
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