Pima enhances campus safety after appraisal

By SHAQ DAVIS

 

A psychologist hired to train Pima Community College employees on handling threat assessments has resigned after a consulting firm released two reports analyzing the college’s safety and security operations.

 

James Sanchez resigned on Feb. 14.

 

“I felt like it’s time for me to get back to clinical practice,” he said in a telephone interview.

 

Instead of replacing Sanchez, the college will contract with Threat Assessment Group, a consulting firm that PCC used previously.

 

A student incident from Spring 2013 prompted the consultant reports. PCC paid $100,000 to Security Research Management Consultants of Columbus, Ohio.

 

The firm visited campuses during night and daytime hours, and conducted interviews with Pima employees and students.

 

One key finding: PCC needs to modernize its police department.

 

Incident spurs assessment

 

The student incident that prompted the security assessment unfolded last spring.

 

On March 5, a female student at Northwest Campus told a faculty member about a disturbing conversation with a male student, describing the male student’s vocabulary as “creepy.”

 

In an earlier incident, an instructor assigned students to write their names on index cards. Instead of his own name, the same male student wrote “Heinrich Himmler.”

 

The faculty member said the student also made disturbing comments in class about how he “enjoyed watching people bleed” and “babies should die.”

 

The incidents resembled actions by former PCC student Jared Loughner, who shot and killed six people at a Tucson shopping center in 2011 soon after being expelled from the college.

 

In response to the Loughner shootings, PCC formed a Behavioral Assessment Committee to monitor student behavior and develop plans to prevent campus violence.

 

The college also created a staff psychologist position, and hired Sanchez at an annual salary of $95,201. Sanchez chaired the Behavioral Assessment Committee.

 

In the 2013 incident, Sanchez met with the male student and concluded that the student did not represent a credible threat.

 

After instructors filed a formal complaint against Sanchez, the college hired the Security Research firm.

 

Their analysis said a campus vice president waited nine days before investigating the Northwest student complaint. It also concluded that the behavioral committee lacked written rules and communicated poorly.

 

The safety and security reports

 

Many of the consultant recommendations for improving campus safety focused on the PCC police department.

 

Key suggestions included:

·      Relocating the main headquarters to a central area closer to campuses.

·      Increasing types of campus patrols.

·      Encouraging dialogue with the community.

·      Modernizing the records management system.

·      Pursuing accreditation for the police department.

 

The consultants also examined recently implemented PCC safety measures, such as:

 

·      All classrooms now have corridor locks that can be locked from the inside.

·      The college has installed panic buttons at high-risk campus areas.

·      A PCC Alert texting system provides notification of major emergencies.

·      A “bona fide” criminal justice department provides safety and security services.

·      Campus Action Teams and volunteers assist in emergency situations.

 

PCC has also hired five new police officers, bringing the number of certified officers to 33. 

 

Relocating police headquarters

 

PCC police headquarters are currently located at Country Club and Valencia roads near Tucson International Airport.

 

The report suggested relocating to a “more central and visible location with more opportunity for interaction with members of the academic community.”

 

Police Chief Manny Amado supports the idea.

 

“We really should be more centralized, so that we can get to the campuses a lot quicker,” he said.

 

Amado said each campus substation should be more accessible and visible as well.

 

Using more types of campus patrols

 

Another recommendation was to “increase the use of foot patrol and bicycle patrols or other means of transportation beyond cars.”

 

Amado said non-vehicle patrols are in place.

 

“Our bike patrol has been up and running again since last year, we have officers that go on foot patrol,” he said. “It is a deterrent and it’s stealthy.”

 

Emphasizing community outreach

 

The report encourages officers “to participate in presentations and talks to share their expertise.”

 

Amado foresees more emphasis on community policing, saying he and his officers are available for classroom presentations and town hall meetings. Doing so helps create transparency between the department and the community, he said. 

 

It is also important to give people safety tips, Amado added. “The more you reach out to them, the easier your job is,” he said.

 

One cost-effective way to provide safety tips would be using the marquees located on Pima campuses, Amado noted. The idea was first brought to his attention by Mike Aguilar, a PCC community service officer.

 

Police officers also plan to provide informational handouts at gatherings such as faculty orientations.  

 

Updated records management system

 

The report said the police department needs to modernize its records management system, which still uses a hard-copy paper system.

 

It recommended a system that increases security, allows information sharing and provides for analysis of data and trends.

 

Vice Chancellor for Facilities Bill Ward, who oversees the police department, told the PCC governing board that he will implement an electronic system.

 

Amado said that will make record-keeping more efficient.

 

“It would take less time if the officer were able to type his report straight into a computer and then have it electronically sent to records,” he said.

 

Officers currently must park their police car and return to the office to type a report. The new system would provide officers with a mobile data computer.

 

“If an officer can do that in a vehicle and still be visible, that’s a lot better than being stuck in an office,” Amado said.

 

The mobile computers would also provide computerized information not now available and give officers more flexibility while on patrol, he said.

 

Accreditation for PCC police officers

 

The PCC police department dropped its national accreditation in 2003 as a cost-cutting measure.

 

The consultants recommended accreditation with the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, which accredits both the University of Arizona and Tucson police departments.

 

Ward told the governing board that he will pursue accreditation with either that group or with the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators.

 

Perceptions by students, employees

 

In a random survey of PCC students, Gabriel Ibanez said he hasn’t seen any pressing problems or faced any incidents on campus.

 

Employee Steve Grede said he feels safe at Pima but believes there should be more police making rounds when night classes are dismissed.

 

“There is vulnerability at 10 o’clock at night when the parking lot is empty,” he said. 

 

Leaders say they’re committed to safety

 

Chancellor Lee Lambert says he takes safety for the entire college seriously and will pursue whatever steps necessary to ensure it.

 

“We are constantly and proactively improving security and safety on our campuses, learning centers and other facilities,” he said in a press release. “Commissioning an independent evaluation from a nationally respected firm is part of that process.”

 

Ward said future safety and security enhancements will build on the steps already taken.

 

“The annual crime report we publish every year shows that Pima is, overall, a safe place to study and work,” Ward said in a press release. “But I believe we can and must do more.”

 

He said the college will thoroughly analyze each of the consultant’s recommendations in the weeks and months ahead, then begin implementation.

 

Amado said his department is 100 percent committed to creating a safer place to learn and work.

 

“We as a police department are committed to the safety and security of everyone on the college,” he said. “We will continue to crack down on issues that occur on campus. That is the commitment that every police officer makes.”

Pg04-Police car

A Pima police cruiser takes a visible spot in front of the West Campus main entrance

 

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