Police at City College SF dealt setback in debate to arm them

Police officers at City College of San Francisco were dealt a setback Thursday evening, as an advisory council rejected the idea of equipping them with guns.

Most community colleges do outfit their sworn officers with firearms, but CCSF has not, during its long history.

"The fact that we have escaped tragedy so far is not a coincidence but evidence that our system has been working well," student Otto Pippenger implored, during the public comment portion of the meeting.

The 15-member Participatory Governance Council has been reviewing comprehensive public safety reforms that include not only guns, but Tasers and body-worn cameras for officers.

The college has 25 sworn officers, protecting some 60,000 students spread across several sites, including a sprawling main campus.

Right now, they've got a baton, pepper spray, radio, and flashlight on their belts.     

"Who will be the first, if we don't give them guns?" said council member Lani Battiste, worried about the dangers that confront the officers.

"Somebody pulls a weapon on them and they have no way to protect themselves. It really is that simple," Battiste exclaimed.

But for many who lined up to speak, the issue isn't that simple.

 They spoke of police misconduct in other places, the political climate, and what they see as militarization of police.

"You guys are describing guns as a tool, and it's not really a tool," declared council member Tameem Tutakhil.

"It's something you're giving someone that can literally take away someone's life."

Even after the 7-6 vote, Police Chief Andre Barnes said he doesn't consider the matter closed.

Chancellor Susan Lamb, who listened intently throughout, will make her own recommendation to the Board of Trustees, and they make the final decision.

"We've just been very fortunate so far, " Chief Barnes told KTVU, noting that of the 10 community colleges in the Bay Area, his is the only one with defenseless officers.

The issue was highlighted two years ago, when a man was attacked and chased into the main library by an assailant who reportedly had a gun.

Campus officers could not follow, but had to wait outside and call S.F.P.D.

"There was a big delay. They weren't familiar with where the library was," recalled Barnes, "and that was a big wake-up call."

In a more recent incident this year, an armed robbery occurred in a restroom, but officers could not chase or confront the suspect, because they are essentially unarmed.  

The chief displayed dozens of weapons, guns and knives, confiscated on campuses over the past few years.

He fears, if the situation isn't corrected, some officers will quit for other departments.

"There's a strong possibility that younger officers who can go elsewhere and feel safer, will go. Retention is a challenge for us," said Barnes.

Before the meeting adjourned, one student lashed out at gun opponents as unrealistic.

"You're pushing fear on people to push your agenda," said Onnyx Walker.

"If somebody ran in here right now with a rifle, and that has happened in other situations, would you wish they had guns?" Walker said. "Yes, you would."