Cerritos College police forum creates policy suggestions

Cerritos College president and campus police chief say they stand with Black Lives Matter while continuing to have tough conversations about enacting change.


Jacqueline Cochran

(From left to right) Sean Davis, Dr. Sheila Hill, Daniel Suarez, sign-language interpreter, Dr. Chris Richardson, Student Trustee Johnny Wallace, Campus Police Chief Don Mueller and President Jose Fierro. The panelist participated in Cerritos College Public Forum on Jan. 28. Black Lives Matter movement and campus police reform were the main topics of discussion.

Jacqueline Cochran and Vincent Medina

Cerritos College Falcons Rising and Talon Marks hosted a Racial Justice and Equity Forum on Jan. 28. The Black Lives Matter Movement Dialogue, titled “Turning from National Rhetoric to Campus Action,” was and focused on potential policy changes to address campus safety and policing.

The panelists in attendance were President Jose Fierro, Campus Police Chief Don Mueller, Student Trustee Johnny Wallace, faculty Dr. Sheila Hill and Dr. Chris Richardson.

It was moderated by Editor in Chief of Talon Marks, Sean Davis, and Managing Editor Daniel Suarez. Professor Joy Tsuhako acted as executive moderator and coordinator for the event.

Davis posed the initial question, “What are your thoughts on the Black Lives Matter movement, police reform and police abolition?”

“These are my personal views, not necessarily the views of the district,” Fierro said, signaling that he was unable to endorse any policy proposals other panelists might introduce.

“It is not enough to say ‘I’m not racist.’ It’s not enough to say ‘I’m in support of this or that.’ We need to act in an anti-racist way,” he said. “If you’re doing nothing, then clearly you are endorsing the behavior.”

“We should all expect the same from the police. If their purpose is to serve and protect, I should be served and protected regardless of the color of my skin,” said Fierro.

“I want to know how we are going to understand our students and their lived experience,” said Dr. Hill. “Then let that inform us in terms of the type of campus safety and campus policing that we do.”

“Most of the students who come to campus are faced with a lot of trauma. How do we address our services? When students come to campus, it doesn’t stop. The way they arrive on campus is the way they need to be supported,” Hill said

Suarez mentioned the previous panel discussion and how it focused on the history and origin of the armed police force and their duties even in Colonial America, how it grew from there and its link to mass incarceration.

Suarez asked Mueller if he supported crimes against police being tried as hate crimes.

“That’s not what hate crimes were designed for,” Mueller responded. “Hate crimes are designed to protect groups of individuals who are targeted based on who they are, and they commit this type of crime because they want to send a message to everyone who is like that person.”

“Police are not targeted on a large-scale basis. There is no reason we need to be protected in the same way. It’s not the same thing,” Mueller said. “We need to speak out for Black Lives Matter because black lives are the ones under attack.

“I believe in Blue Lives Matter, but we shouldn’t be speaking out for it because they are not under attack. Black lives have been under attack for a while now, and that’s why they need to be at the forefront of our speech, our talk and our movement right now,” Mueller said.

Mueller was passionate in speaking about how he sees the structure for the Campus Police moving forward:

“I believe that all people are protected under the Constitution. Not all men but all people. We are here for the students and want to see them succeed. It is my hope that when we are back on campus the students will know all of the officer by first name and that they will feel safe so they can succeed,” he said.

Dr. Richardson, who coaches track and field, shared experiences of his athletes expressing how they feel unsafe while on campus.

“I feel responsible since the only reason these some of these students are on campus is because I have gone out and recruited them,” Richardson said. “I have to do that much more work to help them feel comfortable which in turn helps them feel confident and put themselves in a better position in an academic realm.”

“I’ve been in good and bad situations, even with our own campus police, having a gun pulled on me, being pulled over, having backup come because of my height and weight,” Richardson said.

Another primary concern of Dr. Hill’s is the concern she has for students who distrust college faculty and staff and for students who are struggling with mental health issues.

“Students are afraid that if they cannot express themselves in the right way, campus police will be called on them, and that’s not a good environment to have,” Hill said.

Suarez indicated that there maybe a lack of transparency with the college budget. He said he could not locate how campus police funds are spent.

“Any expense we make it put on the planning and budget website,” Fierro said.

“The budget of our police department is somewhere around one million dollars and our campus budget is about $110 million.”

Davis’s final question to Fierro was to ask if the school would be willing to commission a poll to figure out how students feel and think about their relationship with the police on campus.

“I am open to having a conversation about what you are looking for,” Fierro said.

“When you ask a blanket question, you get a blanket answer. We have to look at reports so we can find some common denominators to provide answers to the questions,” Fierro said, despite his earlier statement that reports do not show the whole picture.

Davis pointed out this contradiction, saying that the point of a poll would be to show what the reports were not showing.

“The point is to answer a question that you have, so I’m asking what question would you ask,” Fierro said.

The forum’s suggestions were professional development opportunities for faculty and staff, funding for peer to peer mental health support and a student oversight committee to hold the police accountable.

The next Falcon Rising Black Lives Matter Discussion will be on Feb. 18, at 2 p.m.

EDITOR’S NOTE: A line in this story was updated to clarify that Dr. Fierro was sharing his “personal views” not to stymie policy change but rather that he wasn’t able to endorse policy changes proposed by other panelists.