by Brad Butterfield
Originally printed May 3, 2023
An expected 2,000 additional students are anticipated for the Fall ‘23 semester, threatening to strain an already understaffed police department at Cal Poly Humboldt. The UPD is currently absent a police chief and shorthanded in both dispatchers and officers. Since early March, the number of new hires onto the force has not increased—not for lack of effort. Despite working long hours to compensate for the lack of personnel, Sergeant Andy Martin remains optimistic.
In early March a candidate for police chief, Kevin H. Williams, was interviewed by the hiring committee. Williams, a former LAPD lieutenant with a long resume as a public servant in many departments, filed a lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles in 1999. The suit claimed racial discrimination and cited that Williams suffered from pseudofolliculitis-barbae, which allegedly prevented him from shaving his beard and commonly afflicts Black men. A federal district court would later dismiss the case. Martin, who serves on the hiring committee for the department, couldn’t divulge the reasons Williams was not hired onto the UPD force. With extensive medical tests, background checks, psychological evaluation and training required in the hiring of any officer, Martin explained that it is unlikely CPH will have a police chief come the Fall ‘23 semester.
“I would be shocked if it all happens before fall semester starts, but things happen. I’ve been surprised before, but I don’t think so,” said Martin.
Although short staffed, the department is not rushing the hiring process.
“Our Vice President [Dr. Jenn Capps] puts a lot of expectations and weight behind the police chief and so, she’s made it clear – she’s not just going to hire anybody. She wants to make sure she’s hiring the right person for the job and what we need on campus,” Martin said.
While scrupulous hiring is partly to blame for the lack of personnel on the force, it is far from the only force at play here. The very features of Humboldt county which attract many residents often work against the UPD’s effort in enticing new officers to join the force.
“The county tends to be a little behind the rest of the country in some aspects. You know, the night life completely shuts off at a certain hour. It’s a quiet place,” Martin said. “We don’t have the fast food chains. We don’t have what you would expect in some of the bigger cities. That can be a detriment for us sometimes because we are asking somebody to come to a more remote and isolated spot.”
Martin further explained that being behind the ‘Redwood Curtain’ filters out many potential officers.
“It’s just hard to convince somebody to come work up here in a smaller department… It’s intimidating for a lot of people if they’ve never been here,” Martin said.
Just as in March, dispatcher Jennifer Gomes is still working long hours as one of only two full time dispatchers employed by the UPD. Two potential hires for dispatcher are being considered currently, but even if both are hired, “they’ll probably still be in training as the next semester gets going,” Martin said. Additionally, one officer is currently going through the hiring process.
“I am optimistic that they will be here before this next semester,” said Martin.
Evidently on the backfoot, the likely addition of two dispatchers and one officer will still leave the UPD undermanned. Lack of officers means that there is often just one officer on duty. In anticipation of the rapidly expanding new polytechnic university, the UPD will be hiring another sergeant and a couple more officers.
“That process is just getting started,” Martin said. “So I expect that some of them will start mid [fall] semester at some point.”
Regarding the massive influx of students coming to Arcata for the fall semester, Martin is confident that the department will be ready. “Our staff is incredible. You can tell by the hours people put in and the heart that they give to this department,” Martin said before adding, “It would be a little more comfortable if we had more people though.”