New studies reveal more problems at PCC

2014-02-09T00:00:00Z 2014-03-08T18:56:07Z New studies reveal more problems at PCCBy Carol Ann Alaimo Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Pima Community College isn’t dealing effectively with troubled students like Jared Lee Loughner, and its campus police department is decades behind the times, two new consultant reports show.

A school official who was warned last year of Loughner-like behavior by another student waited nine days before starting an investigation, one report said.

The other report describes a college police operation that is unaccredited, understaffed and largely devoid of modern law-enforcement technology.

The studies, which cost taxpayers $100,000, recommended several improvements in those areas. Both were done by Security Risk Management Consultants of Columbus, Ohio.

PCC Chancellor Lee Lambert said college executives are reviewing the reports and pledged to make sure problems are corrected.

“We are going to raise the bar,” Lambert said in an interview, calling the status-quo “unacceptable.”

The college had previously announced some security improvements on campus, including installing classroom door locks and implementing a text-messaging alert system.

The consultants’ findings further illustrate the administrative neglect that occurred under PCC’s previous leadership, Lambert said.

disturbing behavior

Concerns about the college’s handling of troubled students came to a head last year when faculty complained about a student who referred to himself as “Heinrich Himmler” — the infamous Nazi who was Hitler’s right-hand man.

The student “made disturbing comments in class about how he ‘enjoyed watching people bleed’ and ‘babies should die,’” the report said.

The incident occurred at PCC’s Northwest Campus, where Loughner was a troubled student until shortly before he killed six and wounded 13, including former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, in a 2011 shooting spree.

Employees at that campus are “particularly sensitive” to aberrant student behavior because of the Loughner case, the report said.

Faculty who complained about the Himmler admirer had expected quick action and timely feedback from the PCC committee that deals with troubled students.

They got neither.

A campus vice president sat on the complaint for nine days before looking into it, and the behavioral committee never communicated its findings, the consultant found.

The troubled student eventually was removed from the class where he made the comments but was allowed to stay on in other classes where he hadn’t caused problems.

The report said PCC’s behavioral committee, set up in response to the Loughner killings, still has no operating rules after more than two years in existence and recommended they be developed.

The college also needs to create written policies on when troubling student behavior should be reported and how soon it must be investigated, the report said.

police HQ far removed

The consultant also found much amiss at PCC’s police headquarters, starting with its location.

It’s not on a campus, or anywhere near one. Hidden from the street, it’s tucked behind a college maintenance center on an industrial lot near Tucson International Airport.

Inside, staffing levels haven’t changed much since the 1990s, and neither has much of the department’s technology.

Modern electronic record-keeping doesn’t exist. Officers still write police reports with pen and paper, which “are then are passed from hand to hand before they can be vetted,” causing unnecessary delays in assessing the content, the consultant found.

In 2001, the PCC department was accredited by a national organization that promotes excellence in policing. But in 2003 the department abandoned accreditation saying it cost too much money and staff time.

By comparison, the University of Arizona’s police department holds two accreditations.

The report recommends the college pursue the department’s accreditation with the Commission on Accreditation of Law Enforcement Agencies, which accredits the UA and Tucson police departments.

The study of PCC police was ordered last year after the departure of the department’s then police chief, who retired suddenly after officers complained of toxic leadership.

PCC has small police substations at each of its campuses, often staffed by one or two people. The consultant recommended the headquarters be moved to one of the campuses or some other highly visible location.

A separate study will be needed to see if the department’s staffing is sufficient, the report said.

It now has 53 people — 29 full-time officers and 24 non-sworn staff. The college also uses contract security to supplement police services. The college recently hired several additional police officers for its force.

Despite the department’s issues, the college doesn’t seem to have a major crime problem, the consultant said.

From 2010 to 2012, PCC reported one sex offense, five robberies, 28 assaults, 19 burglaries, 44 stolen cars, 417 thefts and no homicides, the report said.

The report also makes a host of other recommendations on everything from increasing bike and foot patrols, creating campus anti-crime programs, better organization and training of community service officers, better records-keeping, improving the department’s communications center and improving training.

Bill Ward, a PCC vice chancellor assigned a few months ago to oversee the police department, said officers there are eager for reforms. He said he’s already working on solutions to problems and will bring recommendations to the college’s Board of Governors next month.

“It’s going to take time,” he said. “These problems didn’t crop up overnight, and they’re not going to be fixed overnight.”

Contact reporter Carol Ann Alaimo at calaimo@azstarnet.com or 573-4138.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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