Riverside City College community voices frustration, alleging inadequate communication, after recent campus emergency that forced a lockdown

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By Jennipher Vasquez

Developing story 

Many weren’t happy with how Riverside City College handled the April 18 college lockdown. 

Public commenters, faculty and staff highlighted tactics they deemed questionable during the Riverside Community College Distict Board of Trustees meeting May 2. 

RCCD Chief of Police Christopher Cano and Director of Risk Management Beiwei Tu presented a timeline of the incident prior to answering questions from the Board. 

The Board, and some faculty who spoke during the public commentary, raised concerns about the immediacy, or lack thereof, of informing people that there was not an active shooter on campus that Tuesday.

Cano said officers received reports of a suspect with at knife at 7:19 a.m. 

An alert to the campus was sent at 9:36 a.m. to shelter in place. A second alert at 10:46 a.m. said that it was not an active shooter situation. 

The first text sent by the Riverside Community College District on April 18 alerting those opted in for campus emergency alerts to shelter in place. (Jennipher Vasquez | Viewpoints)

The “ALL CLEAR” message from the District was sent at 12:37 p.m. 

“If anything was clear is that nothing was clear to us that day,” said Carolyn Rosales, an English instructor at RCC who said she barricaded her office door with a chair after recieving the phone call alerting the campus to shelter in place. 

Rosales said she could hear the helicopter that was searching for the suspect flying above the campus while she hid in her office. Still, she wasn’t clear what the emergency was exactly. 

“Any information we were getting was coming to us via Twitter, Instagram and (colleagues) just searching the web for any updates,” she said. “This isn’t something we should have to do, our college should be the ones updating us specifically.”

Faculty from the Early Childhood Development Center said they hid in the dark with children in the center for more than two hours. 

“This is still traumatizing for us that lived it,” said Emily Philippsen, an instructor at the center. “As a mother of a toddler in our children’s program and as faculty member I watched with horror from our office windows as about 40 police officers with guns and rifles drawn, in plain view, were racing back and forth for over two hours and we were told nothing specific about what was going on.”

She said that Dean of Instruction of Career and Technical Education Shari Yates informed faculty in the center that a man with a knife was on campus before they were officially told by administration that it was not an active shooter situation.

“She found out the same way we did, through random text messaging threads,” Philippsen said. “Once she did find out that it was just a suspect with a knife she immediately relayed that information to us, but that was a personal courtesy to us. That was not acting on behalf of the college.”

Trustee Keri Then asked Cano why it took over two hours to send the first campuswide alert. 

A timeline provided to the Riverside Community College Board of Trustees by RCCDPD Chief of Police Christopher Cano on May 2 during a Board meeting.

Cano responded by saying that there was no reason to alert the college when they received the initial report around 7 a.m. of a man walking near campus with a knife. They were unable to locate the suspect at the time during a search of the area.

A photo from a presentation given by RCCD Chief of Police Christopher Cano to the Board of the man who entered Riverside City College with a knife in hand April 18. (Photo courtesy of Christopher Cano, unknown photographer)

“It wasn’t until we knew that he was actually on our premises, where we knew now he posed a threat to the actual college population,” the chief said. “At that point in time that’s when we had to lockdown the college and send out the RAVE alert.”

A text message sent to those opted in for emergency alerts from the Riverside Community College District notifying the campus that the incident at Riverside City College on April 18 was not an active shooter. (Jennipher Vasquez | Viewpoints)

Then said she is concerned about the decision to wait on informing the college until the suspect was on campus. She said that students had already identified the suspect and other people on campus knew of the incident by 9:30 a.m., prior to the first alert.

“I think our communication to our community needs to be intentional, it needs to be as fast as possible, as fast as we can communicate and with specifics,” she said. “I think two hours is a very long time to make a decision to inform the campus of what was a very real incident.”

Trustee Mary Figueroa asked Cano why District police chose to request a Riverside Sheriff’s Department aviation unit instead of the Riverside Police Department. 

“They’re (RPD) a lot closer strategically,” Figueroa said. “They’re minutes away instead of further out than RSO’s (helicopter).”

Cano said he would need to check the memorandum of understanding between the District, District police and the RSO. However, he said that both RSO and RPD airships fly out from the same heliport.

“It sounded like nobody was available due to the fact that RSO was actually on another operation or possibly down,” Cano said. “So, there was no airship that was requested by their dispatch for a secondary, but we will look into that.”

Figueroa said the helicopter alerted people to shelter in place. She also pointed out how the helicopter’s response time affected communication.

“It made the announcement before even our staff or faculty had any clue as to what was going on,” Figueroa said. “That is where we dropped the ball, and I’m going to say that that was our fault because the communication was not happening with the administration … the administration was clueless as to what was going on.”

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