A 61-year-old retired police officer said Tuesday he has resigned as a Merced College citation officer because he felt unsafe in a hostile working environment as the college moves to a new law enforcement oversight arrangement.
Andrew Kapeghian, a retired Manteca police officer, said he left his position at Merced College last week after working there about 18 months.
“There’s so much turmoil out there and a lack of leadership,” the Merced man told the Sun-Star.
Kapeghian, who was one of about 19 employees on the campus security team, departed the college after it decided to end its 16-year relationship with the Merced County Sheriff’s Office on June 30. Instead, the college is working with the Merced Police Department to begin providing oversight of the security department, according to officials. Police Chief Norm Andrade has said his department is in negotiations for a long-term contract.
As a citation officer, he said, he wrote tickets and had a direct radio connection to the sheriff’s dispatch center.
Kapeghian blamed a hasty transition that did not allow for the Sheriff’s Office to bring Merced police up to speed on how the college operates. He said officers were left uncertain how the Los Banos Campus would be overseen by Merced police.
Susan Walsh, interim president of the college, did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
It was just not a very well thought out issue by the administration. It was done really as a vendetta more than anything else.
Andrew Kapeghian, who resigned from Merced College last week
Kapeghian said he resigned July 3 after working nine hours without any contact from a supervising officer. While working under the supervision of sheriff Sgt. Vince Gallagher, Kapeghian said, he heard from his supervisor regularly.
“It was just not a very well thought out issue by the administration,” he said. “It was done really as a vendetta more than anything else.”
The shuffling of the agency that oversees campus police came after a contract dispute between Walsh and Sheriff Vern Warnke, who wanted his office to have sole decision-making power of who serves as campus chief. The college, which paid about $174,000 to the Sheriff’s Office under the old contract, had wanted to continue having a voice in the decision.
Warnke has said Walsh tried to use the campus law enforcement as a “political tool.” Walsh considered hiring a private investigator to look into staff in February and asked to have a trustee arrested in April, Gallagher told the Sun-Star in June.
Neither case warranted police involvement, according to the sheriff’s office. College leaders have denied the accusations.
The same protection that was out there with the sheriff’s department is the same amount of protection that’s out there now.
Retired Merced Capt Tom Trindad, who was named as the campus’s new chief on July 1
Retired Merced Capt. Tom Trindad was named as the campus’s new chief on July 1. He noted the campus police department is its own agency with four officers.
“They haven’t lost personnel, they haven’t lost any protection,” Trindad told the Sun-Star on Tuesday. “The same protection that was out there with the sheriff’s department is the same amount of protection that’s out there now.”
Trindad said the campus is served by a “dedicated” and “experienced” campus police force.
A veteran officer himself of nearly three decades, Trindad said he’s been involved in transitions of four different chiefs. “There’s always going to be bugs,” he said.
Because he’s retired, Trindad said, he’ll work full-time as the chief until he’s used up the 960 hours allowed in a fiscal year under state regulations. He estimated that would allow him to work until December, when another supervising officer would take over until Trindad can return next July.
That’s an absolutely chilling allegation that they might be snooping around in our offices and looking for fingerprints. That’s absolutely appalling.
Patrick Mitchell, the president of the Merced College Faculty Association
Some college employees have voiced concerns during the change, saying administrators have kept them in the dark during the transition, according to Patrick Mitchell, the president of the Merced College Faculty Association.
In a July 5 email distributed campuswide, Merced College board of trustees President Dennis Jordan wrote that Walsh was given support to make a law enforcement change by three of the seven trustees.
The board has not held a meeting since mid-June, according to records. Since the decisions were not made at a public meeting, Mitchell said, school faculty and residents have no way to examine if the decisions were prudent.
“I’m definitely concerned over the procedure,” he said. “The board would not have been able to take any action on either terminating the sheriff’s contract or entering into this temporary contract with city police.”
He said he also was troubled by the accusation that the college at least looked at hiring a private investigator. “That’s an absolutely chilling allegation that they might be snooping around in our offices and looking for fingerprints,” he said. “That’s absolutely appalling.”