By STEPHEN MOORE
Pima Community College Chief of Police Christopher Albers was fired while serving as chief of police at Georgia Perimeter College, and later filed a whistleblower lawsuit.
“I was fired for upholding the law,” he said.
His current supervisor, Vice Chancellor for Facilities Bill Ward, confirmed PCC was aware of the incident before deciding to extend a job offer to Albers last summer.
Albers said the Georgia situation began in October 2008 when a student reported a stolen laptop. He described the following chain of events:
Campus police retrieved a video showing a female student taking the laptop from a classroom. The female student reportedly sold the laptop to another student for $400.
The victim agreed not to press charges if the female student made restitution.
After agreeing to pay restitution, the female student said it was the victim’s fault he lost his computer and she reneged on the agreement. The victim pressed charges and the female student was arrested.
The arrestee’s mother complained to the director of human resources and threatened to use an Atlanta radio station to bring attention to the incident.
Albers received a conference call from the human resources director, in-house counsel and a college dean. He said he was told to drop the charges, to un-arrest the female student “and to personally go down and get her out of jail.”
He refused and was eventually fired.
Albers later filed a whistleblower’s lawsuit against the Georgia Board of Regents.
After five years in the court system, the two parties settled for a significant sum. However, Albers said the settlement only covered his lost wages once attorney fees and taxes were deducted.
Albers said college administrators sometimes prevent campus law enforcement agencies from fulfilling duties that might cast a bad light on the college.
“Colleges want to maximize enrollment, and when a college has a crime problem, that affects their enrollment,” Albers said.
His termination created lots of pain for him and his family, Albers said, but he doesn’t regret his actions.
“I would still do the same thing knowing that I would suffer for it,” he said. “There is no merit in doing the right thing when things are going smoothly. The real test of character is doing the right thing when it hurts.”
Albers does not like to discuss that chapter in his life. “When something bad happens, moving past painful events is important,” he said. “But if it helps or inspires someone to share those painful experiences, that is a good thing.”
Albers served as a senior police officer at Georgia Piedmont Technical College until he became vested in the Teachers’ Retirement System of Georgia.
He will not be able to wear a badge or make an arrest in Arizona until he becomes certified by the state Peace Officer Standards and Training Board, despite being a police officer for more than 20 years in California and Georgia.
AZPOST certification requires passing a two-part written test and proficiency tests in firearms, tactical driving and physical aptitude. He planned on taking the written test in early December.
Albers, who is right-handed, broke his left arm when he tripped over a box while moving into his home. He passed the firearms test despite wearing a cast. “Little is required of the left hand, except to steady the right,” he noted.
Albers had to delay the driving and physical aptitude tests because they place stress on the left hand, but planned on taking the tests later this month.
His first few months at PCC have been wonderful, Albers said, with everyone being supportive, kind and encouraging.
“I like getting to meet people and to hear their stories,” he said. “Stories are so important to building a sense of community, which is what I seek to do here at Pima.”
Albers is arranging a campus security assessment in January or February from the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators. Three campus police chiefs from similar institutions will visit and make recommendations for improvements.
Albers said he will install more cameras at West Campus if the budget allows.
Downtown Campus has cameras but lacks signage. Albers has approval to post additional signs to warn potential wrongdoers that cameras are rolling.
“Cameras serve primarily as a deterrent, but can be utilized for evidence in the event of a crime,” he said.
The chance of having an active shooter on campus is remote but very real, he said.
“Everyone on Pima College’s campuses should know how to properly respond,” he said. “It is far better to have the tools to respond and never need them than to need them and not know what to do.”
All police department patrol personnel undergo mandatory annual active shooter training, he said. It includes both classroom instruction and practical exercises.
Active shooter training for faculty and students is not currently mandatory, but Albers hopes that will change.
Voluntary training is available and 773 individuals have participated since June 3, 2010, he said.
Albers has final say in all department hires and always asks potential employees this question: “What is more important, doing things right or doing the right thing?”
He defines doing things right as “staying within the lines, adhering strictly to policy and procedure.”
Doing things right is not as important as doing the right thing, he said.
“Just because a guideline says to do something or a prevalent practice dictates a certain action, does not mean it is the right thing to do,” he said.
Albers believes all PCC police officers should use their discretion to determine the right course of action.
“At the end of the day, they can be certain that they did the right thing and have the confidence that their actions can make a real difference in someone’s life,” he said.
‘Peace Officer Physical Aptitude Test’ requirements
The AZPOST “Peace Officer Physical Aptitude Test” manual requires the participant to:
- Run a 99-yard obstacle course that includes navigating several sharp turns, jumping a number of curb-height obstacles and vaulting a 34-inch obstacle.
- Lift and drag a 165-pound, lifelike dummy 32 feet.
- Run five yards to a six-foot chain-link fence, climb over the fence and continue running another 25 yards.
- Run five yards to a six-foot solid fence, climb over the fence and continue running another 25 yards.
- Run 500 yards.
The time for each event is weighted and scored. A combined minimum score of 384 points is required to pass.