Questions arise over unarmed security at Peralta colleges

Two weeks from now, armed Alameda County sheriff's deputies will be a thing of the past at Laney College in Oakland, and other campuses that make up the Peralta Community College District.

"The relationship with the Alameda sheriffs ends on Dec. 31. So that really put them under a lot of pressure," said David Rowe, a journalist at Peralta Citizen, which covers the four community college campuses in the district.

Some wonder whether the district's board moved too quickly on Monday night, voting to hire several unarmed community-based security firms that will take the deputies' place, without fully vetting those firms.

Reporters at the Peralta Citizen newspaper say they found issues regarding licensing, certification and contracting, including with the firm that will handle security at Laney College.

"There's no business license, there's no security guard license, we have no sense of what kind of mental health training," said Pamela Rudd, a journalist with Peralta Citizen.

At the district's board meeting Monday night, interim Peralta Chancellor Carla Walter said the minority-owned security firms are prepared to patrol Laney, Merritt College in Oakland and the College of Alameda. Berkeley City College has an existing contract with another firm.

"We have done the appropriate due diligence," Walter said. "We have checked each of the contractors' backgrounds and their readiness for completing this work."

The guards will be uniformed, local people of color, many trained in martial arts.

But the district will end up paying about $6 million to the new firms instead of the nearly $4 million it paid to the sheriff's office.

"I think there was an expectation that the district was actually going to save money, that these community policing organizations would be less expensive than the sheriff, not more expensive," Rowe said.

Sheriff's Sgt. Ray Kelly said, "Hope it works out for them. If it doesn't, they can call us back, we'll see where we're at, but it looks to me like they're going to be spending more money to get less service than they were getting with the sheriff's office."

Peralta Trustee Linda Handy said the goal is to have a non-confrontational presence on the campuses.

"This is a place for education, and support of our students. De-escalation, if there is a problem," Handy said.

The sheriff's office said it will ensure a seameless transition with the security firms. Deputies first took over policing at the peralta campuses after the 1995 shooting death of a district police lieutenant near Laney College.