In 2013 a lone gunman killed five people in a shooting at Santa Monica College and despite first-hand experience with gun violence, the school has yet to develop a site-specific active shooter protocol for its latest satellite campus.
The SMC Center for Media and Design opened last year and officials said safety is taken seriously at all SMC facilities and some precautions are in place even if they are not widely publicized.
“Training is the best indicator of how an institution will respond, and the police department trains continuously to keep our community safe,” said SMC Police Chief Johnnie Adams. “Not only do [we] train regularly with the Santa Monica Police Department regarding the response to active shooters, [but] we also offer training to our staff so that they are prepared to assist and stay out of harm’s way.”
Lise Borja, mother of Che Borja who was on the Santa Monica college campus at the time of the shooting, said her son was not aware of evacuation procedures but the information should be available.
She said her son felt safer evacuating than hiding on the campus and that he didn’t know any specific procedure to follow, so he went along with his instincts.
“A drill didn’t help him in any way, shape, or form. I’m not even sure if there was one prior to that,” she said.
Although Lise felt that a shooter drill did not aid to her son’s safety, she still had a strong stance about the Center for Media and Design campus having a procedure in place.
“Yes, I think it’s vitally important to have a drill in place so that it can be handled in a methodical manner so the students know what to do, have a safe place to go, and I just think that it’s extremely important that they do that.”
Adams is developing new plans and strategies to ensure the safety of the main college and its surrounding campuses. In some cases, those measures are pre-emptive security systems such as comprehensive electronic locking systems and cameras. The school also has a mass notification system to reach out to students in the event of an emergency
“The college took a lot of steps in order to improve the safety and security around the campus,” Adams said of the time following the shooting. “For example, we now have over 800 cameras installed, and we started our access control system, where we use electronic locks which are allowing us to remotely lock doors.”
The technology would allow operators to lock doors during an emergency situation to prevent anyone from accessing students and staff.
Some of the safety strategies are focused on human solutions.
“The force multiplier is our community,” said Adams. “The prevention of gun violence is everyone’s responsibility. We subscribe to the philosophy of ‘See Something, Say Something.’
Adams said his department investigates tips that come in from individuals on campus via the free student app, Live safe. Students can text the police department, about concerning behavior which will go to all staff and the crisis prevention team.
“My job is really threat assessment, so I will start to look at threat assessment pieces, social media, whether or not the person owns guns, past history, things like that, that may give me a picture of who that person is,” said Adams of investigating a suspicious individual.
Other nearby schools are approaching the problem from several angles.
At the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District board meeting on March 1 of this year, district officials passed a Resolution in Support of Common Sense Gun Laws. The resolution referenced clear goals for the district’s well-being and its expectations of federal and state legislators. These expectations included banishing the use of semi-automatic weapons, increasing funding for school psychologists and expanding prevention programs.
Spokeswoman Gail Pinsker said the district prioritizes stability.
“We are in constant review of our safety plans for all of our schools,” said Pinsker. “It is always something at the front of our minds.”
Erin Banks, a mother of two middle schoolers at Corpus Christi in Pacific Palisades said the private Catholic school has recently revamped their security systems and has had school-wide, active shooter drills.
“The gates are locked now, with codes to get into them, and the kids just participated in an active shooter drill, if that ever happens, the kids will know what to do,” she said.
Torrie Krantz, Reni De La Nuez and Jesse L. Pruitt are students at Santa Monica College