The UC Santa Barbara Student Health Services requested increased UC Police Department presence from Jan. 23 to Feb. 2 through in-person walkthroughs and car patrolling, citing concerns about workplace safety due to an increase of emotionally distressed students and concerns over anti-abortion protestors.
Student Health Services (SHS) is now evaluating the efficacy of the increased police presence after the trial period ended.
According to Student Health Executive Director Vejas Skripkus, increasing police presence at Student Health was requested by the department itself in consultation with leadership and its student health advisory group. The request was in response to “concerns raised by SHS staff regarding safety in the workplace,” according to Skripkus.
Associated Students President and fourth-year political science major Gurleen Pabla met with Skripkus about this initiative after several SHS employees voiced concerns about increased police presence. Skripkus apologized for making the decision to institute increased police presence at SHS so quickly during the meeting with Pabla.
According to Pabla, Skripkus cited an “increased number of emotionally distressed students who’ve had negative experiences with staff” and potential community protesting regarding abortion services offered through SHS.
Politico published a news article that highlighted California as an “abortion haven” post-Roe v. Wade and featured UCSB as one of the few UCs that offers abortion services to students, including abortion-inducing drugs mifepristone and misoprostol. The article drew attention to UCSB’s “politically inflammatory” health operations, according to Pabla, which allegedly sparked concern over the possibility of protest against the services.
Skripkus did not divulge the specific reasons for the increased police presence beyond concerns of public safety in his statement.
“I went into the meeting asking about the police presence. What was the reasoning for it and why wasn’t it informed to the general public — or why wasn’t there a public vote or anything like that,” Pabla said.
Skripkus sent notice to staff on Jan. 20 in a mass email obtained by the Nexus about the increased police presence.
“Starting next week, the UCPD will begin more frequent car patrols and in-person walkthroughs of the building to ensure the safety of our building,” Skripkus said in the email. “At our next staff meeting in February, the UCPD will discuss their increased presence with all of us.”
UCPD has ceased its trial run of heightened patrolling as SHS looks to evaluate the effectiveness of the trial and consider next steps, Skripkus said in an email statement to the Nexus. Skripkus said SHS has still not reached a consensus on the “effectiveness” of the UCPD patrols and is continuing to get more input from involved parties.
“This trial has ended and we are re-evaluating its effectiveness,” Skripkus said in the statement to the Nexus. “We review our safety measures regularly and work to respond to concerns from our community.”
Pabla was told by SHS that the department felt “comfortable” ending the police patrols and would instead have more security officers available at the building.
“It’s a little inflammatory to assume that the best procedure would be to have an armed police officer available,” she said in response to the decision.
Skripkus said the reactions to the increased UCPD presence have been “mixed” amongst staff members and students at SHS.
Pabla discussed a specific instance of concern during the period of heightened police presence where a UCPD officer walked into an area dedicated to the SHS Alcohol & Drug Program — an incident Pabla said was uncalled for to the Nexus.
“There were just police officers roaming the halls, and I think one of the big issues was a police officer walked through the drug and alcohol prevention program area of Student Health, and that’s absolutely a terrible thing that should not have ever happened,” she said.
Pabla said Skripkus apologized for this specific incident, saying that this was not a part of the protocol around the police patrols and that the officers were given direct instructions to “stay away from that department.”
“The police officer that came in went down the wrong hallway or something like that — that’s what it sounded like happened,” she said, according to the meeting.
SHS is now looking to garner public and police input in determining the best workplace safety procedures.
“SHS is continuing to meet with SHS stakeholders to listen to concerns and ideas for enhancing safety protocols in our facilities,” Skripkus said in the statement. “We are also working with the UCPD to evaluate our security protocols and procedures for our facilities in order to address issues of privacy and safety.”
Though UCPD was the only effort instituted to address workplace safety, SHS considered resolving the safety concerns through increased presence of Community Service Organization (CSO) officers — unarmed UCSB students employed by UCPD to patrol campus, fulfill special security needs and act as a liaison between police and students. Ultimately, SHS did not proceed with CSOs to ensure safety due to the organization’s staffing constraints.
“One of the problems was that the CSOs didn’t have enough capacity to be able to help monitor the Student Health department,” she said.
SHS also looked into potentially installing a security officer at the department as opposed to increasing UCPD presence, which did not work out due to a lack of legal code to follow through with such a hiring and a lack of resources to hire extra personnel.
“I believe that UCSB does not have the title code in order to get security officers like the other UCs do, so they had to go straight to UCPD,” Pabla said. “They could have increased surveillance or other resources, but because their department is kind of old, I don’t think they had, from what I understood [from the meeting], the capacity to be able to upgrade those resources.”
Both UCPD and the Student Health Advisory Committee did not respond to request for comment, and Skripkus declined to comment on matters regarding security protocol at SHS citing safety reasons.
A version of this article appeared on p. 1 of the Feb. 16, 2023, print edition of the Daily Nexus.