One-fifth of the sworn officer positions with the Los Rios Police Department are vacant as American River College President Thomas Greene spearheads an initiative to improve campus safety.
Seven of the 34 positions are unoccupied, according to Mitchel Benson, the associate vice chancellor for communications and media relations for the Los Rios district.
While Sgt. Mike Olson of the Los Rios Police Department wouldn’t say that the vacancies impact his ability to help keep the campus safe, he commented on the strain it causes the department.
“There isn’t even a minimum (number of sworn officers that must be on campus). We have a finite number of police officers and a vast area to cover,” said Olson.
“The more people you have, the easier the work load, the better distribution of the assignments you can make. Ultimately, it’s not up to me how many officers we have. I distribute what we do have.”
While witnessing a physical fight on the ARC campus on Monday, Oct. 27, student Kyle Joyce called the Los Rios police.
“I couldn’t get a hold of them,” said Joyce. “There was an automated message, it was such a long voicemail that I hung up to try and break up the fight.”
“I would feel more safe knowing we have a full staff,” he added.
Benson said that the vacancies do not impact the police department’s ability to maintain safe campuses.
“We believe that the current vacancies among the sworn ranks has no impact on our ability to maintain a safe environment throughout our district,” said Benson. “It is not unusual, nor problematic, for the Los Rios Police to have vacancies or openings for six or seven sworn positions.”
“In fact, it is rare for a police department in our region of the state to be fully staffed because of the constant churn of openings and officers moving from one department to another,” he added.
Benson pointed out that the sworn officers have assistance.
“While campus patrol officers do not carry firearms, they are all trained to observe and report any suspicious activities, participate in community-based policing efforts and respond to calls for service,” said Benson. “That leaves our sworn officers available to respond to reports of crimes in progress and other potentially more serious incidents in the district.”
Los Rios Police Department Capt. John McPeek said that the sworn officers working with the district are “very dedicated” and that the campuses are safe. Nevertheless, he said that “having a full staff district wide is an important goal.”
ARC President Thomas Greene said that he doesn’t know if having this many vacancies is normal.
“I can’t speak to what’s normal. I’ve only been here for two and a half months,” said Greene. “Turnover – in every position be it the sworn officers, a dean, college administrator, or a staff person – in a large institution, in a large district, there’s always turnover.”
As the Current reported on earlier this October, President Greene convened a group of administrators to discuss how to improve campus safety earlier this month.
He said the first meeting led to “a conceptual framework to help convey from an overarching perspective what we hope to accomplish.”
Greene said that he wants a greater culture of “shared responsibility” for safety on campus.
“Historically at a lot of colleges – and I’m not speaking about ARC, I’m speaking in general – there is an assumption that safety is the responsibility of the police. In many ways that’s a short sighted perspective,” said Greene.
“Truly, safety is everyone’s responsibility. It is my responsibility, it is the faculty and the staff’s responsibility, and it is the student’s responsibility.”
Greene said that he supports greater access to social services. He contributes a decline in access to these services to the recent recession.
“The ability for our students to access social services is more challenging than it has been in the past,” he said. “One example – one of many examples – there’s a lot of challenges in the community that surrounds American River College. We’re part of this community so we’re also impacted by that.”
Greene also said that he’s asking how students who may face a breaking point can be helped before their situation escalates.
“How do we support students who are challenged?” he asked. “One example – how do we help a student recognize when and if a behavior is disruptive?”
Ultimately, Greene said, the goal is a safe learning environment.
“The underlying principle is that an effective learning environment and safety are inextricably linked. Keeping people safe is a prerequisite,” he said.
Benson said that the district is in the process of hiring to fill the vacant positions.
“Currently there are 18 applicants and the pool is expected to grow. The screening of these applicants will begin the second week of November,” said Benson.
Benson said that it “can take as long as three to four months” for hiring new sworn officers due to “the comprehensive process required to screen candidates for peace officers positions – it includes psychological and medical screenings and polygraph exams.”
Los Rios Police Department Chief of Police Cheryl Sears did not return multiple requests for comment.