Proposal to hire armed police officer creates controversy

Erick Pirayesh, News Editor

The proposal to hire a full time armed Santa Barbara Police Department officer sparked a passionate debate at the recent College Planning Council meeting.

The proposition, presented by Vice President of Business Services Joe Sullivan and supported by Superintendent-President Dr. Lori Gaskin, would hire an SBPD officer to patrol campus from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays. The position would cost an estimated $250,000 a year.

Councilors attending the April 2 College Planning Council meeting spent ample time debating the conflicting opinions.

“I came here and asked about emergency preparedness and frankly, we have done nothing,” said Gaskin. “The response I got, ‘Nothing ever happens here,’ and you’re absolutely right, nothing has happened here. Does that mean that something is not going to happen?”

Many councilors felt this is, relatively, a low priority and too expensive. Others argued against the notion of an armed guard on campus.

“It’s fear-based,” said English professor Priscilla Butler. “To me I don’t buy that, I don’t live my life that way. How many violent crimes actually occur? Lets make that the justification rather than the sky could fall at any moment.”

SBPD supports a police presence on campus based on the impression that it would increase knowledge and awareness. According to the proposal, the police would respond quicker and more effectively to incidents or emergencies. Additionally, a full-time officer would act as a deterrent to all crimes on campus, particularly violent ones.

Gaskin said that low faculty interest in emergency preparedness is partially behind the motivation to have a police force on campus.

“If I saw any semblance from the faculty of an interest in getting trained and then disseminating that training to the students, then I’m with you guys,” she said. “I don’t want an armed police force around here, but we have to step up and take responsibility. We have 21,000 students.”

Some faculty members are concerned with hiring a graveyard shift security officer for the campus before a full-time police officer.

Sullivan feels that it all comes down to emergency preparation and not taking a “wait-and-see” approach.

“Do we have to wait for something to happen before we look at possible ways to alleviate the situation?” he said. “If as a college we can afford to do it, it would be well worth doing.”

The council ultimately decided to continue discussing the possibility of an officer further while also looking at other possible ways to increase security. The next meeting will be Tuesday, April 16.