Educational Policing: SMCPD cracks down on skaters with compassionate control

During a ride along with Corsair staff to discuss campus policing, a skateboarding student - oblivious to the world with his headphones on - flies past Officer Sean Gordon who yells, “Don’t ride your board on campus!” Interim Police Chief Mark Kessler, walking to a meeting, catches the culprit and calls it in. Collecting the student’s ID, Kessler checks to see if the student has already been issued a warning about skateboarding on campus before. The student hasn’t, so his name is written down in a citation notebook to be filed later. If he’s caught skating on campus again he’ll be issued a ticket costing $308 and penalized for a moving violation that can take a point off his license.

This small incident is a perfect example of the Santa Monica College Police Department’s new crackdown of skateboarding on campus, in order to comply with general district policy BP 2460. The policy prohibits the use of roller skates, roller blades, skateboards, scooters, and “other human transporters” – a catchall term that means the law includes the popular new “hoverboard” two wheel personal scooters – while on campus.

“Very simply put, we've seen over the last six months to a year, an exponential increase on the amount of skateboards and bicycle riding on campus. Which is a good thing,” said Sergeant Jere Romano, Shift Supervisor of the SMCPD and former US Marine. “We want you to take alternative transportation, just don't ride it in the middle of campus. We've seen a huge increase in people doing that, however there have been a couple injuries. People getting hurt.”

Romano went on to state that the issue was less about potential danger to the skateboarders, and more about potential danger to pedestrians around them. “If they fall off their board, that thing just becomes a missile, and it takes off and can potentially hit somebody” said Romano, who expounded upon a prior incident of a loose skateboard that hit an elderly citizen on campus, causing them to break their hip. But in truth, such enforcement seems more about legal liability to the school in case of such injuries, “[People are] litigious. They're not going to go after the student, they're going to go after the institution that's allowing it," said Romano.

While the campus police know they have to start enforcing the policy on human transporters, they’re striving to maintain their general approach of “Educational Policing” by issuing warnings to students first. According to Romano, such a strategy was started over 20 years earlier by former SMC Superintendent/President Richard Moore. Romano said, “Our philosophy with education is to not be the hammer. To educate you so that you know what [an infraction] costs. So don't do it. We really don't want to be the hammer.”

This educational approach seems to be paying off for the department. According to the 2015 Annual Security report, an annual release from the department in compliance with the Clery Act, crime at SMC was much lower in 2014 compared to 2013 in all areas except Drug Law Arrests. Romano is hesitant to say anything other than that it might “just be a good year”, but also acknowledges that working closely with students and faculty has yielded excellent results in preventing rather than reacting to incidents.

All of this occurs in the middle of a highly charged national atmosphere concerning police abuse across the nation, which all of the officers that spoke to the Corsair are keenly aware of. However, the officers at SMCPD seem to feel that their informational approach should be able to bridge that gap.

“What I believe is that the public needs to be educated more on what we do, and what's expected of them. I think that's what we need” said Gordon about trying to prevent incidents with students from escalating when confronted by police. “We can always do a better job,” said Romano about the efficacy of their style, “but we're letting people know that we're open to dialogue. Anything we do that is 'stormtrooper-ish' is just institutionalizing education. Those types of mannerisms would just crush creativity and art."