The campus police department is on a mission to recruit more cadets in order to improve security on campus and at the same time provide students with hands-on experience with law enforcement.
One of the newer recruits, Blanca Collazo, 19, has been a cadet for nearly five months and even though she was hesitant to join the force at the beginning, she knew that being a part of the department would be a “challenge” that she would eventually enjoy.
“I figured it would be a challenge because you don’t see a lot of women out there [doing this kind of job],” said Collazo.
She admitted that although it was the money that initially sparked her interest ($10.50 to start, with a top range of $15), it was a tip from an older sister that convinced her to look into a career in law enforcement, telling her that some departments have to fulfill “numbers” by recruiting more women.
Collazo plans on majoring in music but she still wants to pursue a career in law enforcement. Once she has gone through the police academy, she plans to apply to several departments, including Glendale, Burbank and Los Angeles.
The downside for the campus department is that the cadet program is “geared to prepare them for a job [in law enforcement], which was bad for us because we would lose them [once they got hired elsewhere,” said Nidal Kobaissi, campus police captain.
The history of campus police dates back to 1993 when the GCC Board of Trustees voted to establish the department. Prior to that, cadet classes had already been offered.
In 1997, campus police was able to hire four field officers, with the approval of the Board of Trustees.
Currently campus police employs seven sworn police officers and 13 cadets. A position is currently open for an eighth police officer.
A sworn police officer means that the officer carries a weapon. All campus police officers carry a 9 mm pistol.
The ability to carry a pistol is one the biggest differences between a cadet and an officer, even though their duties are somewhat similar.
Officers in the department have an assortment of duties. From monitoring the parking structures, handing out citations, patrolling the surrounding area in the black and white cruisers, or simply working in campus police headquarters answering calls and taking reports; the officers do a little bit of everything to ensure safety on campus.
The duties of a cadet are similar to those of the officers. Cadets, according to officer Richard Mena, 33, a former cadet who went up the ranks, are like the “eyes and ears” of the officers.
On any given day, cadets can be seen strolling the campus. Their responsibilities at the end of a school day and on weekends, is to make sure that the buildings are locked down. When working at the headquarters, cadets are also responsible for taking calls and reports. Like the officers, cadets are also able to issue citations for parking violations.
Both officers and cadets are highly trained in conflict resolution matters as a means to de-escalate arguments before they becom more intense. They are also trained in self-defense tactics and although cadets are not trained to carry a weapon, they are trained on how to safely handle one, just in case one is found on campus or a situation with a firearm does arise.
At one point, campus police employed 20 cadets, which made patrolling the campus a lot easier.
“That is when we were able to have people posted in different places, and that made a difference,” said Kobaissi. “But when you have 12 or 15 [cadets] and half of them are new, it is difficult to manage.”
Kobaissi would like to have more cadets in the program, as a means to “up” the patrolling throughout the campus.
The department recently increased the cadet salary and is currently working to create a recruitment video.
There are some distinct characteristics that campus police looks for when hiring cadets. The most important one, according to Kobaissi, is their desire to work in law enforcement.
“It’s been my experience that if you hire someone who isn’t really focused on, not necessarily becoming a police officer, but doing [a job] in the public service, they don’t really do well in this kind of job,” he said.
“If they can demonstrate that [it is their] goal [to go into law enforcement], that is a big plus,” Kobaissi added.
Those who apply to become a cadet do not necessarily have to be majoring in criminal justice or any related field. Being a student at GCC is not a requirement either. The department does send out information to other college campuses as well as local high schools. Kobaissi said that one of the reasons why campus police do outreach at local high schools is that it gives these students a chance to “look at their options” once they enroll at GCC.
“It’s really hard sometimes to get people to work for us [when they are] coming from another college,” said Kobaissi. Students have rough schedules and then they come here and work seven to eight hour shifts, four times a week. It gets difficult. That is why it’s [a] convenient [job] for students here.”
Collazo, aside from being a cadet, is also a member of the women’s basketball team and a full-time student.
“I work from 8 a.m. to noon, [practice] from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. and then work from 3:30 p.m. to midnight,” she said. “But I work it out and I don’t work everyday so I have enough time to do homework.”
“She is a great cadet,” said Mena. “She really works her butt off, and she is so passionate for what she does and you can tell in her performance.”
“It makes me happy when we have somebody like that, [a person that we] went out and gave information to and then they decided to apply and are now doing a great job,” he added.
For Collazo, wearing the uniform did bring a series of personal concerns. She felt that wearing the uniform would trigger disrespect and would welcome people to “treat you like crud,” but she manages to see past that and fulfill her duties as a cadet by helping people.
“When you help them [students, faculty and staff] you get a lot of ‘thank you’s,’ throughout the day, and for me, that is really good feeling,” she said.