Deputies will stop patrolling college campuses, emergency phones still don't work

Starting July 1, Alameda County Sheriff’s deputies will no longer patrol four East Bay junior college campuses after the Peralta Community College District’s board of trustees rejected a multi-million dollar police services contract.

The 5-2 decision to not approve the $4.1 million, one-year contract followed a marathon meeting Tuesday where trustees debated whether sheriff’s deputies have the proper training to patrol the diverse student and staff populations at Laney and Merritt colleges in Oakland as well as College of Alameda and Berkeley City College. 

“By not having a police presence on their campuses not only will crime rise but they will be in violation of federal law,” Lt. Gerald Verbeck said. “It mandates a law enforcement entity to provide crime stats. They could be fined drastically.”

Acting Chancellor Frances White said she was highly concerned about the outrage that may follow once the community learns that deputies will no longer patrol the four campuses. 

“The minute word gets out that Peralta has no security and is still shopping for security and may have security in three to six months…I just don’t know,” she said at Tuesday’s board meeting.  

The decision to not renew the contract with Alameda County for deputies services at the four colleges comes in the wake of a 2 investigates report that found that the blue emergency phones on the Laney and Merritt campuses have been in disrepair for nearly a decade.

Students and staff are supposed to be able to use those phones, which connect to a police dispatcher, if they witness a crime, feel unsafe, spot a suspicious person or need help in an emergency. Currently, deputies stationed at the Peralta police station are dispatched to help the caller. 

However, when the current police services contract expires on June 30, it’s unclear how those calls will be handled. 

“It’s getting pathetic. Something needs to be done,” Merritt College neighbor George Lingenfelter said. “This is a catalyst for trouble and it needs to be addressed.”

The college district vowed to have all of the emergency phones working by the end of April, however, little work has been done to repair, upgrade and bring the faulty phones back into service. 

At Merritt College this week, 2 Investigates found several emergency services phones boarded up with cardboard, wrapped in yellow tape and without their blue safety beacons illuminated. Moreover, the college district claimed that all of the phones at Oakland’s Laney College were functioning in March, but several phones surveyed this week still have “not in service” signs posted on them. 

“Come out here, police the area,” Lingenfelter said. “Put forth some effort to show that you care.”

Records show that just $8,300 has been spent on upgrading the emergency blue phones project since April, although the college board approved $2 million for the project last November. 

A future lack of police patrol and broken phones are the latest issues in a series of campus security problems.

Over the last few months, 2 Investigates has discovered broken windows, non-working elevators, missing door locks, missing fire extinguishers and malfunctioning fire alarms. Homeowners who live near the colleges also have concerns about vandalism, broken bottles, knocked down fences and unmonitored security cameras in college campus parking lots. 

“I’m very concerned for our students, for our faculty, for our staff, for myself,” Merritt College President Marie-Elaine Burns said. “They [criminals] are going to come and they’re going to try to take whatever we got up there and there’s going to be craziness. You can’t leave us without anything.”

One of two board members to cast a vote to approve the contract for future police services was long-time trustee and former Alameda mayor and retired U.S. Navy Capt. Bill Withrow.

“We failed,” he said. “It’s beyond me to understand why we would wait 33 days before the end of a contract to bring (concerns over deputies) up. This is something that should have been brought up six months ago.”