Allan Hancock College Superintendent/President Kevin Walthers listens to discussion during the board of trustees meeting Tuesday night about the future of the campus police department. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

A proposal for Allan Hancock College to consider disbanding its police department and hiring another agency to provide law enforcement services will be explored by a special committee.

The Hancock board of trustees on Tuesday voted to appoint a committee to look into the controversial proposal after the police chief shared concerns about several deficiencies and the high cost of fixing those problems.

“My concern, as I said early, is safety is primary,” said board member Hilda Zacarias in seeking a committee to review the idea. “The role of a safety group of individuals is so critically important for it to be very, very connected to the college itself.”

In addition to Zacarias, the panel’s proposed membership would include college administrators and former chief Chris Nartatez, who also worked for years at the Santa Maria Police Department and previously led the Guadalupe Police Department. 

The committee also will include a representative of another college or university law enforcement agency.

“My only caution is to the entire community of Allan Hancock College. We’re talking a major investment in public safety, so we need to think about that in terms of allocation of resources,” she said. “It could impact us all.”

The agenda item asked the board to direct staff to develop a proposal to address concerns. 

“Time is of the essence,” Hancock College Superintendent/President Kevin Walthers said. “We can’t continue on the road we’re on right now.”

The board action followed new Chief Paul Grohowski’s 11-page assessment citing a number of problems, such as inadequate staffing, out-of-date policies and procedures, lack of compliance with training requirements, deficits in equipment, inadequate facilities and ancient technology.

“It is my opinion that we should explore the feasibility of consolidating law enforcement services with the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department,” Grohowski said. “The benefits and increased level of service are too great for our organization not to explore seriously. That said, the situation at hand is dire and some solution must be committed to.”

Boosting personnel, with five new police officers, one new sergeant and a project assistant, would add up to $551,434 annually, Grohowski said. That number does not include new equipment or the needs for new vehicle to replace one of the older cars.

Hancock previously contracted with Santa Maria police for a lieutenant to serve as chief of the community college’s small force.

However, geography — Hancock has a Lompoc Valley Center plus classes in Santa Ynez Valley — brings jurisdictional limits since Santa Maria police operate within the city’s boundaries. 

Grohowski recommended contracting  for law enforcement services with the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Office with the police chief job becoming a chief deputy/undersheriff job.  

“The SBSO has jurisdiction throughout the entire college district, thus assuring a continuity of service,” the chief said in a memo. 

Hancock’s community services officers would remain college employees to continue parking enforcement duties providing “eyes and ears responsible for reporting suspicious activity or criminal behavior” to the Sheriff’s Department. 

California School Employees Association labor representatives Favel Jens spoke in favor of the police department remaining. 

“We all think it’s really important that Allan Hancock continue to maintain their own police department just as you guys have since 1979,” Jens said, prompting applause from some in the audience.

Another audience member, whose brother is a member of the force, urged the board to proceed slowly before contracting with an outside agency, saying the chief was being vindictive in recommending contracting with an outside law enforcement services.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.