Campus police department under review

Officer Jeff Hsu prepares to set out on his routine patrol of the Saddleback campus. (Lariat file photo)

Jason Chung

Saddleback College recently hired an outside consulting firm to survey the Saddleback Campus Police, with the possible intent of restructuring the department.

The college saw an opportunity to evaluate the efficiency of the campus police after the previous chief of police, Harry Parmer, retired last year. A consultant was invited to the campus to interview officers and staff from the department, as well as the surrounding community of students, in order to better understand the department’s structure and function two weeks ago.

“We are trying to make sure everything is done properly, [that the department is] following the proper rules, regulations, procedures and the controls in place,” said Saddleback President Tod Burnett. “So what we did was we contracted with an outside, independent, very well-known, and experienced consultant in the field of campus police to come in to just do an analysis and review for us.”

However, the South Orange County Community College District Police Officers’ Association expressed concerns about the potential outcomes that may result from the survey.

“We felt that the audit was geared toward moving our department away from a police department to a security department,” said POA President and Saddleback Officer Santos Garcia. “The auditor that was hired used to work at a college that used security officers, so we were concerned that that’s the direction the college is going. Also, the college interviewed a security company to get an idea of what they are able to do for the college and what their cost would be.”

With only six full-time and one part-time police officers, the Saddleback department is currently short-staffed by one full-time and one part-time position. This means if an officer calls in sick, the campus will only have one officer patrolling it.

“We don’t think we are at where we need to be for the health and safety of our employees, students, and our college,” said Burnett. “With that information, we will able then to take it and get a clearer idea of what we need to do, and how we should move forward with our campus police to make it much better than what we have right now.”

According to information provided by the POA, the consultant is considering four tentative solutions. The first is to maintain the status quo and hire a new chief of police for the Saddleback campus. The second is to consolidate the Irvine Valley College and Saddleback departments and have only one chief of police in charge of the district. The third is to employ security guards to support the department. The final possibility is to contract with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department in lieu of having a dedicated campus police force.

“As POA president, I feel we would rather have police officers. But it’s certainly not the only way to go,” said Garcia. “We don’t completely object security officers. We just don’t believe they should be taking police officer positions. Our understanding is that if security officers were used here on the campus, they’ll used more for door unlocks and escorts, rather than doing police work.”

The issue is still up for debate as President Burnett has not received the final report from the consultant yet.

“[The options are] certainly something to look into, but I have no conclusions,” said Burnett. “None whatsoever.”