Last semester, Yuba College’s staff and students experienced first-hand the harsh realities of school violence. On September 2, 2004, campus personnel received an anonymous bomb threat that was traced to a Colorado-based cell phone number. The same number was linked to an earlier bomb threat to the Sacramento International Airport. With these facts-in-hand, campus officials commenced a school-wide evacuation of over 4,500 people.
On September 13, 2004, at a District Management Council meeting, the bomb threat and the handling of it were discussed. Among the topics discussed were the need of additional evacuation routs off campus and the concern over the Marysville campus’s three separate alarm systems.
As of now, the Marysville campus has three exits which all lead into one main artery, North Beale road, creating mass congestion. On the afternoon of September 2, the California Highway Patrol had to cut-off all east North Beale road bound traffic near Wal-Mart to allow a quicker, less-congested evacuation. The evacuation itself took approximately two hours to complete.
Yuba College Police Chief Chris Wilkinson has been working with Yuba County public works and attends East Linda public meetings stressing his concerns and ideas on multiple safety issues, in particular, adding exits south of campus, leading to Griffith Avenue.
“There is unity throughout the community to resolve these safety issues,” said Wilkinson.
Currently, the alarms for the Marysville campus operate on three separate systems, all of which are immensely outdated. If and when an evacuation is needed, the systems’ control panels are in three different locations throughout the campus, and they must be manually triggered, creating less-efficient results that crucial when each passing second could result in a lost life.
According to Wilkinson, an ideal alarm system would be linked to one central location and have different tones for different crises: fire, bomb threat or an active shooter on campus.
Also on Wilkinson’s agenda is to get the District’s Board of Trustees to authorize the Yuba District Peace officers to carry and use firearms. To many students and Yuba College employees’ surprise, the same campus police that write citations for parking on premises without a parking permit are not ordinary, mace spraying specialists, aka “rent-a-cops” or “security guards.”
Six full-time sworn peace officers patrol the Marysville and Woodland campus. They have the same power and authority as a Yuba City Police officer. The only difference is they are restricted by district regulations to not carry firearms on campus.
They go through the same police academy and firearm training as a Yuba City or Marysville police officer, and they are hired through the same extensive process by State law and POST regulation. The process includes an extensive personal history or background investigation, medical and psychological suitability examination, written and oral communication examination and proof that they are United States citizens. The Yuba College campus, however, like on most other Californian community colleges, restricts its police officers from carrying firearms.
One need only look in the Yuba College Police evidence lock-up to see the weapons that the peace officers on campus run in to. An array of knives, swords, shotguns, handguns, nun-chucks and even a ninja star was confiscated from suspects on campus.
In one instance, Wilkinson explained, a suspect was stopped for having expired registration tags. The suspect had been released from prison the day before and was on probation. He had an ice pick stashed away in his car. Although, the suspect was compliant, Wilkinson said that the situation could have escaladed into a suspect scared to go back to prison and wounding or even killing the unarmed peace officer.
“I fear for (the district peace officers’) safety everyday, knowing they are working without the right tools for the job,” Wilkinson said.
The Yuba College District Standing Safety Committee, whose purpose is to ensure the safety of employees and students on District sites, has been working on a District Action Plan and an Injury Illness Prevention Plan, both of which will be finalized this year and implemented next year.
Wilkinson, who is an ongoing member of the Safety Committee, said, “We have a responsibility to students, staff and visitors to the highest quality of service to ensure a safe learning environment.”
Al Alt, Director of Human Resources at Yuba College and an ongoing member of the safety committee, explained that the District Action Plan would cover what to do in a crisis and where to evacuate. Also the committee is taking input from local outside agencies such as fire and police departments.
David Freiler, the quiet, well-known librarian of Yuba College and also a member of the Safety Committee, knows all too well the importance of a well thought-out safety response plan. Thirteen years ago, Freiler was the school Librarian at Lindhurst High where Eric Houston, 20, killed four students and wounded 10 in an act of retaliation for a failing grade.
Referring to the District Action Plan, Freiler said, “We have so many students. We want to respond appropriately to the situation.”
The Injury Illness Prevention Plan covers creating a safe a safe work environment and chemical safety in classrooms, as well as day-to-day maintenance operations.
Wilkinson and his staff have put hours of research and study in designing the Yuba Community College District Police Department website, allowing students and staff to have access to information from crime statistics on campus to evacuation plans in case of an emergency.
More information about campus safety can be found in a document published by the Yuba Community College District Office of Research and Assessment. The college office put out a forty-three page “Safe Campus Plan: Questionnaire and Response” in December 2004. These responses ranged from complaints over Marysville campus’s unattractive landscape to concern over the parking lot’s chuckholes and poor condition. The study contained various questions and graphs for each campus: Maysville, Clear Lake, and Woodland. The most alarming results were for the Marysville campus.
In one question, participants were asked to respond to the statement: “The campus buildings, campus grounds and campus parking areas are free of hazards that might cause accidental injury.” The results: 28.7 percent said YES and 60.6 percent said NO for the Marysville campus. These findings are ghastly when compared to the Woodland campus results: 72.1 percent said YES and 16.3 percent said NO.
In a different question participants were asked to respond to the statement: “The campus facility and classrooms are well maintained and a pleasant place in which to spend time.” Compared to Clear Lake’s 84.2 percent and Woodland’s 72.1 percent, only 30.4 percent of respondents on the Marysville campus said YES, while 62.0 percent answered NO. Most do not find the Marysville campus’s classrooms and facilities a pleasant place in which to spend time.
Perhaps the most disheartening result for the Marysville campus was when respondents were asked to reply to the statement: “The campus is located in a safe area.” Only 32.9 percent said YES and 73.2 percent said NO.
Overall, respondents do not feel safe on the Marysville campus.