After some debate and before a standing-room only crowd, the Hancock College board of trustees voted unanimously Tuesday night to establish a committee to address persistent safety and operational issues identified in a report on the campus police force.

Once the committee develops a proposal to address the issues, the board will discuss whether to increase funding and staffing for the college Police Department, allowing it to work towards improvement, or enter into a service agreement with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office for campus patrol and supervision.

Hancock’s Police Department now services the college's campuses in Santa Maria, Lompoc and Santa Ynez Valley.

“Moving forward,” said Hancock Police Chief Paul Grohowski in the report submitted to college administration Jan. 15, “the college has a decision to make: it must either commit to invest this level of financial resources (required to improve) its police department, or to explore other avenues.”

Grohowski’s recommendation was to enter into a service agreement with the Sheriff’s Office to consolidate Hancock’s police department, train current officers and provide well-trained and equipped deputies on all three campuses. The consolidation would result in an added cost of approximately $551,434 annually.

Several public speakers expressed concerns Wednesday night about consolidating the department – one had a brother in the department and argued that the entire department does an excellent job. Another pointed to the number of people who showed up at the meeting in support of the police department.

When it came time to hear from Hancock’s Human Resources Director Kelly Underwood, trustees Dan Hilker and Hilda Zacarias quickly voiced their concerns about how quickly the decision had been made.

After discussing her thoughts with the board, Zacarias made the motion to include the formation of the subcommittee to investigate the potential benefits and ramifications that would include a board member, Hancock’s former interim police chief Chris Nartataz and a public safety official from a community college or Cal Poly.

“The role of a safety group of individuals is so critically important for it to be very, very connected to the college itself,” Zacarias said. “I don’t want us to move forward with the only outcome being (that we contract with someone else),” adding that the immediacy and swift motion of the decision caused her concerns.

“It’s a different job, and I don’t want us to rush this through,” she said. “I want it to be inclusive and … it’s just the values I’m asking you to put into process. It will take longer, but it’s that important.”

Following the adoption of the new resolution, a committee was formed that includes Zacarias as the sitting trustee. The board agreed to reach out to Nartataz and to seek an outside college law enforcement representative willing to share their perspective.

The committee will report at future board meetings, but there was no timeline for the committee’s investigations or a decision by the board.

In his report, Grohowski identified six major deficits within Hancock’s Police Department, including inadequate staffing and lack of adequate officer backup; out-of-date policies and procedures; lack of compliance with training requirements; equipment deficits; inadequate facilities; and a need for upgraded and additional technology.

Grohowski filed an initial report to college administrators Sept. 30 outlining the deficits that he had identified within the department, and a Nov. 29 follow up report featuring a restructuring proposal for the police department to maximize patrol and supervision coverage.

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However, in his Jan. 15 report titled “Police Department Consolidation Plan,” Grohowski cited short staffing and an underfunded budget preventing the police department from effectively moving forward, and made several recommendations on how to improve.

“If we consolidated law enforcement services with another agency, we could reap some significant advantages,” Grohowski wrote in his Jan. 15 report, citing four specific benefits.

By converting campus law enforcement officers to Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office deputies, the college can provide a highly-trained, competent law enforcement team to protect and serve the campus, Grohowski said. Another benefit, he said, would be filling a Hancock Director of Public Safety position to guarantee a high level of customer service to Hancock’s students and staff.

The third benefit, he wrote, is that the responsibilities of officer training and enforcement of professional standards, as well as all human resources issues would become that of the respective contracting agency.

Lastly, by entering into a service agreement with local law enforcement, the service can be provided while the college saves money.

Although the college has contracted with the Santa Maria and Lompoc police departments for dispatch services and after-hours patrol since Grohowski’s hire in September, Grohowski argues that contracting with the Sheriff’s Office will provide better coverage for the campus because all three campuses are located within their jurisdiction.

Also on Wednesday, Yesenia Beas was sworn in as Hancock’s board of trustees’ new student trustee, replacing Carson Link, who served in that position the previous year. Beas is a Righetti High School graduate and currently serves on the college’s Associated Student Body Government.

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