FREMONT CA Dec 18 2016 — The Ohlone College community is again debating the possibility of arming police officers on its Fremont and Newark campuses.
In 2005, when the issue was last broached, then-Ohlone President Doug Treadway decided to stick with the campus policy of not giving guns to officers.
But concerns over shooting sprees on school and college campuses around the country in recent years have led to a revisit of that policy.
In October 2015, as part of a larger reassessment of the college’s safety and security plan, campus Police Chief John Worley resurrected the policy change idea for discussion at a college council meeting.
Ohlone College President Gari Browning followed up by creating a task force to, among other things, explore what other institutions have found when weighing the benefits and risks of arming officers. The task force also was tasked to get the perspectives of Ohlone students, faculty, employees and the college community as a whole.
During spring, the group met three times to discuss research it had gathered, and in the fall it hosted three open forums. The college intends to take more steps before reaching any conclusions; Browning has final say.
Worley said he favors arming sworn officers on campus. He and Officer Ben Peralta are the only sworn officers, however, so the others still wouldn’t get guns. Worley and Peralta were certified by the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) and trained like all other law enforcement officers in the state. The other 10 members of the campus force are public safety officers with lesser training.
The community college district’s campuses in Fremont and Newark have seen almost no criminal or violent crimes, though they did report a few dozen incidents of vandalism and theft between 2013 and 2015.
“I think we do enjoy a very good climate as far as crime goes,” Worley said. “We don’t have a whole bunch of problems.”
However, Ohlone has an open campus and crime numbers are “not really relevant as far as what could happen. You always have to be prepared,” he said, noting that the batons and pepper spray officers currently carry may not always be enough to protect themselves and others.
Worley said he recognizes the need for a discussion about the issue but thinks it should be a short one.
“Each day that we don’t have (armed officers) is a potential day that something could occur,” he said.
Sheldon Helms, a professor of psychology at the school for 15 years, says while he respects and trusts the campus security and sworn officers, he staunchly opposes the idea of arming them, as he did in 2005.
“Guns are dangerous, even in the best, most trained hands,” Helms said. He added that in many published studies since the 1960s, it has been shown that aggressive behavior tends to increase in the presence of weapons, not decrease.
Helms said the school community needs a very good reason to introduce weapons into a relatively crime- and violence-free arena.
“The idea that you should be frightened because something might happen, that does not fly for me,” he said. “I need to see evidence before I make a decision.”
Of 12 nearby community college districts the task force members used for comparison, five have armed officers on campus, four do not, and three contract with local authorities such as a county sheriff’s office.
Ohlone is the only community college in that group with POST-certified officers who are not armed.
Shairon Zingsheim, Ohlone’s associate vice president of human resources and training who co-chaired the task force, said there’s little objective information and statistics on the issue to draw from.
Zingsheim said Ohlone is looking into setting up a blog where college community members can study available facts and voice their opinions on the issue.
In the spring semester, a comprehensive survey about campus climate will be distributed to everyone at Ohlone; it will include questions about arming campus officers.
Zingsheim said she doesn’t think Browning will make a decision for at least six months.
“Anytime you’re making a decision that could affect lives, it’s a heavy responsibility,” Browning told The Argus. Even though the decision is a while away, Browning said she is considering all the facts.
“I have to add that high-level view and broader consideration, otherwise I’m not really doing my job,” she said.
“I’m going to have to do what I think is right.”
East Bay Times