This past August, Chief of Campus Safety Victor Clay completed a year-long search for new officers after three departures last year. Campus Safety welcomed officers Leroy D.R. Avington, Ruben Ortiz, Jessica Hernandez and Mayor Cheng.
Campus Safety often receives more calls than officers available, making it impossible for officers to respond to every student. According to Clay, having additional officers will allow Campus Safety to be more present for students.
The previous officers left for different reasons: One retired after approximately 30 years. Another wanted more flexibility to travel around Los Angeles county. The third, Nate Weiss ’10, was accepted to Harvard for theater school.
Campus Safety pulls from the same pool of candidates as county police departments, contributing to high turnover rates and understaffing.
“We’re always looking for those guys because [they’re] highly sought after by police departments and if they get hired you’ll make three times the amount you’ll make here, they’ll leave in a second [and] so we’ll need a pool of candidates to fill behind them,” Clay said.
The leaders of last year’s occupation were critical of Campus Safety’s position at the college. Demand No. 9 called for the immediate demilitarization of Campus Safety, including but not limited to the removal of bulletproof vests from their uniforms, exclusion of military and policing rhetoric from all daily logs, discourse and paperwork, increased transparency and a positive and direct connection to the student body. Meanwhile, Demand No. 10 called for the immediate removal of LAPD’s presence on campus.
New officers Avington and Ortiz both started working at Occidental around mid-August. According to Avington, their youth is a positive attribute in terms of trying to mend relations between Campus Safety and students. Prior to joining the department, Avington, Ortiz and Cheng all previously worked for Pasadena City College’s Police and Safety Services.
“We bring youth to the department, which is good as far as trying to mend the relationship between the department and the students,” Avington said.
Avington also enjoys interacting with students, as well as the ability Campus Safety has to patrol the surrounding community. Ortiz said getting to know the campus and students is the best part of his job.
For Hernandez, the transition into a busy campus life was not as smooth. Before starting at Occidental at the beginning of September, Hernandez worked with a security company that sent her to work at various security-related work sites.
“The most difficult part of working [here] would be acclimating to being around people. I was so used to just working a one-man post,” Hernandez said.
Clay says the new hires have forged bonds with demographics that did not interact with officers before, such as international students.
“My newest officer Mayor Chang speaks Mandarin Chinese and he’s already been able to have conversations with some of the international students,” Clay said. “That’s a huge plus because [before] talking to international students was difficult for us.”
Alex Levers (sophomore) was pleased to see that the new Campus Safety officers were young people of color. Similarly to Clay, Levers also believes the new recruits enhance ties with students
To improve relations with students, Levers suggested Campus Safety officers patrol less often in cars and more on foot. Levers believes more on-foot patrolling would personalize the department on campus. As for students, Levers urges his peers to stop demonizing Campus Safety since they are here for students’ protection.
In the future, Clay hopes to implement student-worker positions as part of the Campus Safety department.