State Center Community College District’s new police chief told the board of trustees Tuesday that combating crime on campus is essential to education.
“Everyone here can’t do their work unless they feel safe and do not have a fear of crime or violence,” Chief Jose Flores told the board at its monthly meeting.
The former Parlier police chief hopes to bring stability to an important position within the district, but he inherits a major challenge: rebuilding and modernizing an understaffed police force tasked with protecting 45,000 students across seven campuses.
Last month, the State Center Community College District named Flores as police chief. He is a retired Fresno County sheriff’s captain with nearly 30 years of experience, and he’s also been on the Clovis City Council since 1999 – twice serving three-year terms as mayor.
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Trustee Miguel Arias told Flores that he was “glad that the rotating of police chiefs has finally come to an end.” The position has been one of the most frequently vacated jobs in the district.
In an interview Wednesday, Arias detailed what Flores faces.
According to Arias, the State Center police department is budgeted for 14 officer positions. Only six are filled. That means one police officer for every 7,500 students, or less than one officer for each site: Fresno City College, Clovis Community College, Reedley College, Madera Community College Center, Oakhurst Community College Center, Fresno City’s Career and Technology Center, and Clovis Community’s Herndon Avenue campus.
State Center spokeswoman Lucy Ruiz confirmed that six officers are currently on the staff, but she added that two sergeants, one lieutenant and Flores himself are all in uniform and ready to respond if needed.
The issue will be to attract and keep officers in the midst of a highly competitive law enforcement field. State Center doesn’t pay as well as city police forces, nor does it offer equal benefits. Ruiz said staffing challenges also include injuries, retirements and other law enforcement agencies offering $5,000 “signing bonuses” to lure officers away.
But Arias believes a district with the largest police academy in the Valley should be able to work out an arrangement where cadets help out district police or even have their tuition fees waived in exchange for serving the district for a few years. Working that out will now be Flores’ job.
Arias said crime across the campuses increased in 2016. There was a rape in the Clovis parking lot. There was a shooting at another campus. Assaults and burglaries became more frequent.
Other district officials disagreed. Ruiz said crime actually decreased in 2016 compared with 2015, and that there was no rapes or shootings reported on any campus.
Trustee Richard Caglia said he was not aware of an increase in crime compared with previous years, but he was made more aware of crime problems near the campuses – specifically along Blackstone and Clinton avenues near Fresno City.
To that end, the board set aside $600,000 to contract with the Fresno, Reedley and Clovis police departments and the Madera County Sheriff’s Office to help with campus policing until the staff is rebuilt. The district hopes it will not have to use all the money, but it is prepared to do so if safety concerns persist.
“I want to reassure the public that campus safety, public safety and student concerns are of paramount importance (to the board),” Caglia said.
Caglia said Flores was hired for his wealth of experience both in law enforcement and policymaking.
Fresno City College President Carole Goldsmith said that safety is a primary concern on her campus.
“Earlier this month at our convocation, Chief Flores and (Fresno police Chief) Jerry Dyer presented their plans for policing and patrolling our campus,” Goldsmith said. “We appreciate this joint effort and are committed to providing these types of strong partnerships to benefit our students and the college community.”
Goldsmith added that the campus has added more lighting and surveillance cameras as an additional safety precaution.