Following a series of recent gun violence incidents on college campuses, Americans have grown all too familiar with the tragedy and devastation brought by mass shootings. It is important for colleges to prioritize the safety of their students and keep them informed about what to do in the event of an emergency. It is critical that students understand the policies at PCC and how the school is protecting against violent threats.

“It is an unfortunate fact of American life that we must be prepared for violent incidents that can come with little or no warning,” Candace Jones, the Vice President of Business and College Services at PCC said in an email. “PCC has an ongoing commitment to the safety of our students, faculty and staff. Campus Police and the PCC emergency response team are constantly preparing for unforeseen incidents that may impact our campus, regardless of outside events.” 

In 2022, there have been 627 mass shootings in the United States so far, according to the Gun Violence Archive which tracks gun violence related casualties across the country.

The NRA spent over $2 million in 2022 lobbying Republican politicians in both the House and the Senate, hoping to promote continued opposition to gun control legislation. 

To curb gun violence and mitigate the continued threats, a number of laws have been proposed as possible solutions, such as gun buyback programs, federal assault weapon bans, and stricter red flag laws, all of which have been endorsed by hundreds of different advocacy groups across the U.S., hoping to model the gun violence reduction seen in other western nations.  

Many students who spoke to The Courier highlighted mental health issues, social isolation, easy access to firearms, domestic abuse and increased stress as issues which may contribute to gun violence. 

“I’d say it’s a big mental illness problem that hasn’t really been addressed super well in the past couple of years,” Evan Devonshire said, a freshman at PCC. “And, it’s also accessibility issues.” 

The threat of violence on college campuses is exponentially higher in states with fewer or less restrictive gun laws, according to research published by the Campus Safety Magazine in 2019. But, overall compared to K-12 schools there is a much lower risk of an active shooter incident on college campuses. 

The Clery Act is a federal law that requires colleges and universities to track and report campus crime data, set up support systems for those impacted by violence and outline public policies and procedures to improve campus safety. 

PCC does this in their annual Campus Safety Report. According to the report, PCC’s Office of Strategic Communication must notify the surrounding community of an emergency event and must share such notices across all social media platforms.

The plans that are set out in the Campus Safety Report do not seem to have been communicated to students very clearly, as students who spoke with Spotlight said they had little idea of what to do, or what PCC’s protocol was in the event of a mass shooting. 

“I am not entirely familiar with what PCC’s plans are in terms of protecting students against violent threats,” Joe Kou said, a student at PCC. “I would hope that early detection and prevention training are included.” 

To further inform all students about what PCC would do in an emergency event, school administration is working to implement programs to inform new students of these procedures. 

“PCC, like other colleges and universities across the country, face a revolving population of students and must create strategies to keep students regularly informed,” Jones said. “PCC will be building emergency preparedness training within the First Year Experience Orientation program to ensure that students know how to respond quickly in an emergency.” 

The Campus Safety Report offers guidance for sheltering in place, what to tell 911 and where to hide and run. It doesn’t provide visualizations of evacuation routes for each building, if hiding is not an option.

The number of on-duty police officers is determined by several factors including the number of people at PCC at any given time. 

“The number of students on campus each day fluctuates based on course schedule, special events, and other factors,” Jones said. “The college’s emergency planning process assumes responses would need to accommodate a campus population numbering in the thousands at any given time.” 

This number ranges from about four to five police officers and two to four cadets patrolling campus, according to Michael Despain, a police officer on campus. But that number was impacted by the pandemic, and the recent disdain for law enforcement.

“We used to have a lot more cadets,” Despain said. “But with the pandemic we lost roughly 75% of our cadet core, both because of the pandemic and the unpopularity of law enforcement; it’s harder to recruit as well.”  

In each office and classroom by the main door there is a safety brochure that details the actions students should take in the case of an active shooter event, or any other type of emergency. There is no clear overview of these plans that are made obvious to students and professors.

Classrooms were recently equipped with new inter-locking systems on doors which allows for people inside those rooms to secure the classroom in the case of an active shooter. 

The RAVE alert system is used for all emergencies on campus, whether it is due to a power outage, an earthquake, a fire or an active shooter in the surrounding community or on campus. 

In addition to RAVE, there is a campus wide announcement system that will alert students in the  instance of an active shooter situation, or any other major campus safety threat. 

The last known use of the system for a safety related incident was July 8, 2022, when two people who were believed to have been armed entered the PCC campus, prompting a lockdown. The alerts were inconsistent and updates were rarely sent out during the two and a half hour lockdown. 

Executive Director of Business Services Darlene Inda stated during a meeting in November that the RAVE alert system updates would now come every fifteen minutes. This would reduce confusion and increase coordination and the safety of those on campus at PCC. 

Whether to have armed or unarmed police officers on campuses has been a controversial issue at colleges and universities across the United States, and more and more have considered arming officers in response to the increased frequency of mass shootings across the country this year. But following 2020’s emphasis on police reform, many views have clashed with any push for creating armed police forces on college campuses, middle schools and high schools. 

To better facilitate conversations and debates on issues like gun violence and armed officers, PCC will be establishing a committee in the spring that will provide oversight and guidance to ensure campus safety. 

“Next spring the college will be establishing a Campus Safety Advisory Committee to provide a forum for shared governance groups to review and provide advice on issues having an impact on safety and wellbeing of our campus community,” Jones said. 

The proposition to arm police officers at PCC was brought before the Board of Trustees once before as an agenda item, but there was no procedural vote to decide one way or the other. Board of Trustees member Jim Osterling said that gun violence and arming campus police has always been a topic of contention on campus. He also recognized that to retrain and arm the officers would be a significant financial commitment that would be bureaucratically challenging to pass and implement. 

“The PCC campus police force is not armed,” Osterling said. “But, we do have an agreement with the City of Pasadena for a rapid response of Pasadena’s police, should there be an event on campus.”

In the California community college system, PCC is one of the last remaining Community Colleges in the state that do not have armed campus police officers, according to Despain. 

Some students came to similar conclusions, saying that police officers should have weapons, but only if they were qualified to do so with permits and a lot of additional training. 

“I don’t think all officers on campus should be armed, but I wouldn’t be opposed to a select group of qualified, trained, and expert individuals having access to a firearm in case of crisis or emergency,” Kou said, though he later added that he did not believe firearms should be routinely carried.

Active shooter drills are conducted annually at PCC. Many students who spoke to Spotlight were unsure when such drills were conducted. Though training for faculty takes place on professional development days, more training for faculty, and students will be made public in spring 2023 according to Jones. 

Though the effectiveness of active shooter drills at times are called into question, according to organizations like Everytown, who say that it is a detriment to students health, and actively campaign against active shooter drills. They also highlight the unpredictability of these events, and question if it is worth putting students through that kind of anguish and mental stress. 

“There is a lot of unpredictability in mass shooting events,” Kou said, though he noted. “I believe our staff are well trained and can adequately respond to a crisis situation.”

As 2022 becomes the year defined by mass shootings in the United States, schools are forced to address the challenges of adequately protecting students, while also facing the realities of a nation’s complex relationship with guns.

This story has been updated. 

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