LBCC to examine campus safety approach, including possibly canceling LBPD contract

The Long Beach Community College District Board of Trustees voted unanimously Wednesday to review its $3.3 million contract with the Long Beach Police Department and potentially seeks out alternatives to provide campus safety in the future.

The move comes as school districts, colleges and universities across the country are facing pressure to divest from local police departments and remove them from day-to-day safety operations.

Trustee Uduak Joe-Ntuk added the item to Wednesday’s agenda and said that the time had come to reevaluate how the college provides security to its two campuses.

“We’re a community college; we’re not a prison, a federal institution. … People have books and scooters,” Ntuk said. “Why can’t we just call 9-1-1 when something needs a lethal-force response?”

The college’s current contract with the LBPD expires in September 2022, but the board could opt to terminate it early by giving the department a 60-day notice. An ad hoc committee comprised of Ntuk and Board President Vivian Malauulu will look into alternate safety models and possibly terminating the contract early.

Trustee Sunny Zia—who had protesters demanding the cancelation of the police contract show up to her Downtown condo during Wednesday night’s meeting—said she supports the movement but not how the item was added to the agenda while the lieutenant assigned to LBCC was out of town.

“I think we need to be very methodical, deliberative and thoughtful of what we do and not unilaterally pull a contract without all the stakeholders at the table,” Zia said. “It’s not fair to the officers who have taken care of us while we needed them the most.”

Zia said a deep discussion was needed but thought the LBPD deserved a seat at the table.

A statement from Rich Chambers, president of the Long Beach Police Officers Association, echoed Zia’s sentiment and said that LBPD officers are highly trained to provide support to the campus community and that the association was “ready and willing” to talk about race and equality.

”The Long Beach Police Department has had a strong and solid relationship with Long Beach City College for over twenty years and our officers are critical to the safety of the students, faculty and staff,” Chambers said. “It is important that we engage in further dialogue before taking any drastic measures that involve removing our officers from the campus.”

The school has had serious crime occur on or near its two campuses in recent years, with bomb threats, shootings and assaults. A fake gun even prompted a brief lockdown of the Pacific Coast Campus in May last year.

There have also been two recent instances where men have been wounded by police while allegedly exchanging gunfire with officers on or near the the Pacific Coast Campus, once in 2014 and again in 2020.

Several trustees also have had their own public entanglements with police issues.

Both Ntuk and Malauulu were alleged to have been at the heart of a public corruption complaint that former Superintendent-President Reagan Romali lodged with campus police last August. Romali was fired in March and Ntuk and Malauulu denied being investigated by law enforcement. The college has yet to fulfill a public records request for the complaint.

During Wednesday’s meeting, Trustee Virginia Baxter recounted a 2014 incident in which Zia had intervened with a police stop of a man on campus, an incident that led some members—including Baxter—to cast Zia as an attention seeker.

“It’s not just awkward; it could have been a dangerous situation,” then Board President Jeff Kellogg told The Press Telegram. “Let the officers do their job.”

Baxter said, in retrospect, she had misjudged Zia and she was merely trying to stop a Black former student from being “roughed up” by campus police.

Other local school districts have also been grappling with the role of police on campuses.

The Long Beach Unified School District Board of Education heard from activists earlier this week calling for the LBPD’s contract with the school to be canceled. The board adopted a revised budget with $71 million in cuts but did not act on the LBPD contact. Instead, it proposed additional meetings to gather more public input.

This week, the Los Angeles Unified School District rejected public calls to slash funding for Los Angeles Police Department officers that patrol its campuses.

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post.