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Cerritos College Refuses to Arm Campus Police

October 19, 1989|LEE HARRIS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NORWALK — After more than six months of debate, the Cerritos College Board of Trustees has rejected a plan to allow school police to carry guns on the 21,500-student campus.

The seven-member board Tuesday voted 5 to 2 against arming the 16-squad police force. Board President Mark Durant, a former campus security guard, and board member John Moore cast the dissenting votes.

"Are we going to wait until someone is killed before we arm them?" Durant asked.

Durant said he favored arming the police because of the dangers they faced. He said he was shot at twice during the three years that he was a security guard on campus. Durant resigned after being elected to the board in 1985. Moore said he did not believe enough data had been gathered to make a decision.

Board trustee Katie Nordbak, who voted with the majority, said there had been no incidents on the campus to justify giving the police weapons.

In April, Police Chief Mike Gobec requested that the campus police be allowed to carry weapons at night and in the early morning. Gobec said his officers had presented him with a petition demanding that they be armed.

"The officers were worried about their safety. They were worried about having to go into buildings late at night armed only with sticks," Gobec said.

The officers felt most vulnerable between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. when they answered numerous silent alarms at buildings on the 140-acre campus and had to arrest people for various offenses, Gobec said.

"We stop a lot of people who come onto the campus. We arrest many of them because we find they are wanted on various warrants, including some felonies," Gobec said.

Gobec said the campus police are qualified to carry weapons because they have received the same training at the Sheriff's Academy in Whittier as deputy sheriffs and other police officers.

The chief said the college had upgraded the police training after he became chief in 1986. Before then, the college had employed security guards with less training, he said.

During Tuesday's board meeting, Dick McGrath, vice president of the faculty senate, told board members a large majority of the college staff indicated in a recent poll that they opposed arming the campus police. McGrath said 140 were against arming the police, 41 were in favor, and eight abstained.

On the other hand, a survey of students showed that 211 supported arming the police while 110 were opposed, the campus newspaper, Talon Marks, reported. The newspaper's staff conducted the survey.

Ernest A. Martinez, the college president, opposed arming the police, saying he did not see evidence that police needed to carry guns.

Gobec, however, cited a July incident in which a Brink's armored truck was robbed while delivering cash to an automatic teller machine on campus. One guard was hit over the head with a lead pipe and the other was knocked to the ground by the robber, who made off with $160,000 in cash, Gobec said.

He said the unarmed campus officers waited for sheriff's deputies before approaching the scene of the robbery. Armed security officers would have been able to aid the guards immediately, he added.

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