Cotati City Council members voted 4 to 1 at this week’s meeting to adopt a resolution that will allow the Cotati Police Department to take over Sonoma State University Police dispatch calls, which includes managing 911 calls from the university as well as after-hour business phone calls, an agreement that will allow more SSUPD officers to spend time in the field and focus more on student and visitor safety.
The new five-year agreement with the Cotati Police Department dispatch team will now become Sonoma State University’s new Public Safety Answering Point and according to the agenda item report prepared by Cotati City Manager, Damien O’Bid, “Related record duties would be minimal and would consist of providing any 911 or business line call recordings to SSU as requested.”
While the main bulk of calls received are parking services related — which will be moved to a separate parking services call division for the university, SSU officers will be freed up due to the change in dispatch to spend more time in the field and patrolling the campus. Despite the change, there will be no change in SSUPD staffing and SSU’s police station will continue to be staffed by its officers through normal working hours, “to take calls, handle police records and other related duties,” the agenda report stipulates.
Other changes to SSU police include the process of joining the Sonoma County Public Safety Consortium JPA, a move that will allow SSU officers to operate and work with the universal countywide public safety records and “in car system,” which is used by Cotati.
Cotati Chief of Police Michael Parish said the in car system and the changes of dispatch will benefit SSU officers since it will allow them to run plates and be on the same record system as other local law enforcement agencies, which “allows them to collaborate across jurisdictions,” according to O’Bid.
“There will be less radio traffic and they can run their own plates. There will be a lot of reduced radio volume traffic,” Parish said of some of the benefits.
One of the driving forces behind all these SSU Police Department changes, is to reorient a stronger focus on improving student, faculty and visitor safety conditions on campus which continues to follow the department’s mission statement on campus safety. The university police’s mission is to, “treat individuals with respect and dignity, be dynamic, innovative and responsive to campus needs, work in collaboration with the campus community, provide safety and educational programs and services in support of campus life and promote professional development through ongoing education and training,” all of which works towards “ensuring a safe learning environment,” according to the Sonoma University Police’s website.
According to O’Bid’s report, throughout the one-year dispatch negotiations between Cotati and SSU, the school is focused on improving campus safety.
As reported in the 2016 Clery Report — which is part of the Jeanne Clery Act that requires CSU’s to disclose campus crime statistics, Sonoma State and its residential campus has seen a fairly small amount of crime, with 18 cases of rape from 2013 to 2015, one case of robbery and aggravated assault in 2014 and 50 cases of burglary between 2013 and 2015.
These figures are small compared to other CSU campuses. The Daily Beast online publication compiled crime statistics to determine which American colleges were the most dangerous and San Diego State University, held a high spot on that list. The San Diego CSU in three consecutive calendar years has seen one murder, 41 forcible rapes and robberies, 74 cases of aggravated assault and seven cases of arson.
Tyson Hill, senior director of the Risk Management and safety services at Sonoma State, says there has been a staffing shortage and strain on SSU police officers and outsourcing the dispatch work would greatly help SSU officers.
“These staffing shortages have led to too large of a burden on our employees. Officers have even been pulled out of patrol to assist in shift coverage… There are fewer officers in the field… and this (change) would take a significant step forward in continuing excellence and for two jurisdictions to work better together,” Hill said.
O’Bid said the intent of this change, “is to improve the safety of everyone.”
Parish said the added dispatch work will not add a burden of work as the revenue received from the one percent cost inflation will allow for the hiring of another part-time Cotati PD dispatcher.
“We are all in agreement that we have the capacity to do this,” Parish said of the contract change, who also mentioned that on average, more calls are received from Cotati on their busiest days and peak hours — Thursday through Saturday, than from SSU.
However, there were some concerns regarding dispatch outsourcing to Cotati police. Gina, who is the chapter president for the CSU workers’ union for Sonoma State, is afraid the Cotati police dispatchers won’t be as familiar with the campus as the SSU police dispatchers, which could affect student safety.
“Our dispatchers have expertise on the layout of the campus and the six different residential communities and all the different academic buildings. They can guide firefighters and other first responders to the exact location on campus with the knowledge of the campus on any given day or time,” she said. “Does Cotati have this expertise? And if no, how long is it going to take to have that? We believe any delays could have an effect on the safety of our community. If any student feels unsafe or vulnerable, then we want to feel secure that his or her request for assistance from the police department takes priority.”
Parish did say it would be a learning curve for dispatchers, but SSU police officers would still be the ones who would respond to calls.
A current SSU dispatcher was also concerned about her job and while she and other SSU dispatchers will still hold positions at the university as an administrative analyst, she is worried that the value of her dispatcher qualifications will go down.
Andrew Heller, who represents the four dispatchers at SSU, says while he doesn’t support this change, the dispatchers will still have available jobs with the school.
Councilmember John C. Moore voted against the move as he had concerns regarding the contract and that there was no “plan B” if the dispatch work done by Cotati police doesn’t work out. Both parties could leave the contract if so desired, but if that were to occur then SSU would be back at square one and have to plan out a whole new dispatch team.
“It looks good on paper. But if it doesn’t work then SSU will have to start all over… and I’m not a fan of outsourcing and we’ve been careful around it,’ Moore said. And while the current SSU dispatchers will not be laid off due to the new contract — a thought that comforts Landman, he ultimately decided to vote against it.
On the other hand, Mayor Susan Harvey supported the change saying she has seen over ride alongs with the Cotati Police Department that they currently work well with SSU students and there is an established level of respect.
“I think this is a good match,” Harvey said.