Budget cuts and new mandated costs have hampered the campus police department’s ability to keep Southwestern College and its three centers safe, said Robert Sanchez, the acting chief of police.
Established in 1997, SWCPD has evolved from a security department into a police department, but the budget allotted 10 years ago has not been enough to keep up, said Sanchez. Mandated training of officers, evaluations required on a quarterly basis, and maintenance of firearms proficiency have taken a toll on the department’s financial resources.
“Those are all things that were never adjusted for,” said Sanchez. “We are operating on very much of a bare bones, skeleton type of a budget.”
With an annual revised general fund of nearly $1.5 million that may seem to some like a large amount, $1.2 million of that goes toward salaries and benefits of the department’s employees, he said. Private security patrols the campus outside of police service hours at a cost of $120,000. After these costs, SWCPD is left with less than $70,000 to operate and purchase equipment and supplies such as gas, bullets, postage and staples. These funds fail to equip police officers, who carry minimum supplies, such as pepper spray, a collapsible baton and a handgun, said Sanchez.
“We are the last agency in San Diego County to not have tasers,” he said. “Even San Diego city schools’ police, who handle kindergarten through 12th graders, all have tasers.”
SWCPD is also the last law enforcement agency in the county to not have rifles available in its arsenal, said Sanchez. Purchase of taser guns and training would cost $10,000, he said. Sanchez said he views the purchase as a priority since it would result in fewer injuries and paperwork for both suspects and officers.
“Ultimately, if you use the taser on someone, you did not have to hit with the baton or with open-hand strikes to try to control them,” he said. “The officers would be more inclined to use a taser on someone than a baton, where the suspect is going to sustain injury and have to go to the hospital to get medically cleared, and where the officer has to write a ton of paperwork that goes with it.”
Sanchez said the department is “extremely short-staffed” with only eight officers, each working extra shifts and overtime because there is no budget to replace two positions vacated in 2008.
Nor is there enough manpower or patrol cars to provide a physical police presence on Higher Education Centers in San Ysidro and National City, he said. Otay Mesa once had an officer assigned to the campus but it no longer does.
“Because of the short staffing,” said Sanchez, “the police officers were pulled from the Higher Ed Center campus and replaced with (unarmed Community Service Officers) (CSO).”
Sanchez said he is considering pulling the CSOs from satellite campuses onto the main campus to help SWCPD officers with non-priority calls, such as locked classrooms.
Amenities offered by Public Safety Assistants (PSA), student workers employed by the police department, also risk being cut because of underfunding, Sanchez said. This would negatively impact parking enforcement, jumpstart and lockout services and safety escorts.
“If the budget ax falls again and we have to end up cutting back on our personnel, especially our student workers,” said Sanchez, “we are not going to be able to provide those types of things any longer, or we’re going to have very limited hours of operation.”
Despite the problems that the department has encountered due to the lack of sufficient finances, Sanchez said that he does not believe they have had negative implications on campus safety, only that the current state is unfair for Higher Education Centers students. Even so, there is a very low rate of crime on satellite campuses.
“We’re doing what we can to operate as a business, and that’s the business of safety,” he said.
Sanchez said he realizes the new college superintendent Dr. Melinda Nish has many pressing issues, such as the investigations of Prop R and corner lot contracts, as well as the general state of funding for education.
“We’re not asking for priority, we understand that it is a limited amount of money that is left over for all the different departments,” said Sanchez. “Obviously, our students come first. It should not come at the sake of classes or the services offered to the students.”