FAIRFIELD – The Solano Community College District will vote this week on whether to enact a standalone public safety department with a combination of experienced armed law enforcement officers and unarmed security guards.
The move comes after the Solano County Sheriff’s Office, the college’s current public safety provider, withdrew from its contract with the college in March after the college confronted Sheriff Tom Ferrara about reports of apparent support in his office for the Three Percenter anti-government militia group. The sheriff’s contract with the college lasts until the end of the year.
College President Celia Esposito-Noy has recommended the college replace the sheriff’s office with a hybrid department headed by a sworn police chief and two sergeants with a team of unarmed security guards, according to a proposal submitted to the college governing board for approval.
The new department’s budget would be $689,668 – a cost savings of $239,280 per year compared to the sheriff’s office, according to records obtained by the Vallejo Sun.
The hybrid option drew majority support in a poll of faculty, staff and students conducted by the firm Forward Solutions Inc., which was contracted to develop the new public safety plan.
Most other community college districts in the state operate their own police department or security service.
Only 11 of 49 community college systems in California reviewed by Forward Solutions, including Solano County’s, contract with an outside law enforcement agency for policing services. The neighboring College of Marin and Napa Valley College District each operate their own campus police department.
An evaluation of the work of the sheriff’s office at the college found that the deputies were doing a lot of work that did not require an armed officer.
For example, most of the work done by deputies on the main Fairfield campus in 2019 included patrols, opening and closing classrooms, and jump-starting student vehicles. There were only two arrests all year and most crimes were minor. There was one reported robbery, one report of sexual assault, one report of domestic violence and five burglaries.
Smaller satellite campuses in Vacaville and Vallejo reported even fewer crimes.
The new proposed Department of Public Safety would have a full-time chief of police and three full-time unarmed public safety officers. There would also be two part-time sergeants, four part-time unarmed officers, two on-call sergeants, two on-call detectives and two on-call unarmed officers.
The police chief would be paid $130,000 plus benefits per year, the part-time sergeants would be paid $95,000 per year. Each of the full-time public safety officers would be paid $186,000 per year.
Brian Travis of Forward Solutions, a retired lieutenant in the sheriff’s office, said at a college governing board meeting in October that the college would seek to hire retired law enforcement officers to fill the chief and supervisor positions.
“They would love to come and work with a college campus,” Travis said. “They feel like they have a need to come back and protect the staff and faculty.”
The police chief would supervise during the day and a sergeant would during evening shifts. There would be no officers on-duty between midnight and 7 a.m., so local law enforcement would handle any incidents during that time. The college would also seek mutual aid agreements with outside agencies in case of a major incident.
The department would lease two law enforcement-equipped Ford SUVs for about $1,600 per month.
After the sheriff withdrew from the contract, the college negotiated a month-to-month extension to last through the end of the year. The college must have a replacement set by then. It is scheduled to vote on the proposal during its meeting Wednesday, which will be held online via videoconference and begins at 6:30 p.m.
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THE VALLEJO SUN NEWSLETTER
Investigative reporting, regular updates, events and more
- Solano County Sheriff's Office
- Solano Community College District
- Tom Ferrara
- Celia Esposito-Noy
- Forward Solutions
- Brian Travis
Scott Morris is a journalist based in Oakland who covers policing, protest, civil rights and far-right extremism. His work has been published in ProPublica, the Appeal and Oaklandside.
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