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Campus Guards Seek Police Officer Status

November 05, 1989|ROXANA KOPETMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LONG BEACH — Henry Brice, a security guard for the Long Beach Unified School District, wears a badge and carries a gun. Yet, he says, he is frequently defied.

"They're standing there saying, 'You're just a guard. Make me,' " Brice said.

Brice does not have the power to make them do anything. As a security guard, he does not have the authority of a police officer.

School board member Jerry Shultz wants to change that. Shultz has proposed creating a school district police department. The plan has been endorsed by the teacher's union and district security officers, but is opposed by several top administrators and most school board members.

Supt. E. Tom Giugni said, "We would be assuming the responsibility of the Long Beach Police Department," which is not the role of the school district.

Shultz argues that district officials have no choice but to take a more active role in school policing because the Long Beach Police Department is understaffed and fails to respond quickly to calls from the schools.

At a recent board meeting, Shultz read off a list of incidents in which Long Beach police failed to respond or were slow in responding to calls from school security guards.

"Burglars right now are having a field day," Shultz said.

Vandalism cost the district $1.4 million during the 1988-89 academic year, a 107% increase from the previous school year. That figure is expected to double again in 1989-90 if the trend continues.

At the crux of the debate is whether school police officers are really necessary and whether they could make a difference. There is also concern that a campus police force could alter the image of schools as a safe haven, and in fact would change the atmosphere in schools.

"(Schools are) a place where we can come and we are safe," said an assistant superintendent, Edward M. Eveland. "If you have real officers in our schools, you've changed the ballgame. Maybe we have to. I'm not sure. . . . Maybe we've reached that point."

Felice Strauss, president of the Teachers Assn. of Long Beach, told the school board last month: "I think we have to look at the reality of what's happening. The problems aren't out there. They are inside our schools."

Although district statistics do not show sharp increases in overall crime, there were several gun-related incidents earlier this year that scared many students and teachers, board members said.

Strauss encouraged board members to support the concept of campus police, but she questioned whether the current crop of security guards should automatically be upgraded to police status. Shultz noted that most of them once were police officers, but he said they would have to go back to the Police Academy and pass stringent requirements before being upgraded.

A new task force of parents, teachers, police officers and school administrators is being formed to discuss the overall issue, and is scheduled to issue a report in January.

If the school board were to take a vote on the matter today, the issue would die, Shultz acknowledged. Most board members argue, among other things, that bringing police officers to the schools would create unrealistic expectations that crime would be reduced.

Longtime board member Harriet Williams said she is "amazed" that crime isn't higher. "It's the times in which we live," she said.

Board member Karin Polacheck told her colleagues at the Oct. 23 meeting, "I have a question of what we're gaining by changing the status."

The school district has two types of officers. Eleven security guards check on the buildings and ensure there are no problems or trespassers day or night. Seven attendance control officers work with Long Beach police officers to round up truants and answer calls from the schools during the daytime.

The role of security guards is to act as observers and report disturbances to the Long Beach police. The role of attendance control officers is to assist their police partners, but the attendance officers are not allowed to handle police equipment, such as driving the patrol car.

District officers have the same powers as regular citizens to make arrests, Shultz said. And while they can question trespassers on campus, they do not have the authority to stop them from walking away, or to take them to jail.

Security guard Christopher T. Reid explained: "If they want to, they could walk out and I am powerless to stop them because it is not reasonable to use force on a trespasser."

Many thieves, street-savvy youths and troublemakers know the difference between a police officer's legal authority and that of a security officer, according to the district's guards.

"When we pull up in our white cars, they say, 'Oh, it's just school security. They can't do anything,' " said security guard Ed West. "That's all we are anymore--scarecrows. And we can't even scare the crows."

The problem is compounded by the Police Department's slow response to calls from the schools, said Shultz and several guards.

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