El Camino College senior rangemaster Francisco Esqueda aims one of the less lethal weapons at a dummy target at a weapons expo on Friday, Nov. 18. Esqueda has been a part of the department since 1996 and focused on highlighting each weapon and their capabilities. (Ethan Cohen | The Union)
El Camino College senior rangemaster Francisco Esqueda aims one of the less lethal weapons at a dummy target at a weapons expo on Friday, Nov. 18. Esqueda has been a part of the department since 1996 and focused on highlighting each weapon and their capabilities. (Ethan Cohen | The Union)

Despite rise in national mass shootings, campus remains safe and secure, officials say

December 8, 2022

It was a late fall night when Alicia Chaires received a news alert about an active shooter in Redondo Beach.

Chaires’ thoughts immediately went to her sister, a police officer, who was on duty that night.

Her stomach dropped.

“[I] had this realization about what could have happened,” the former El Camino student said. “You go through this flood of thoughts because you’re happy that your family member is safe, but you’re also absolutely conflicted with the possible scenarios.”

In this situation, Chaires’ sister came out safe and was able to return home to her family.

However, tens of thousands of Americans are not able to come out unscathed from mass shootings.

Weapons were laid out at a weapons expo hosted by the El Camino College's Police Department on Friday, Nov. 18. The department is in possession of military-style weapons that are both lethal and less than lethal. (Ethan Cohen | The Union)

Since the start of 2022, the U.S. alone has gone through 622 mass shootings and an overall 41,468 deaths from gun violence, according to the Gun Violence Archive. Gun violence occurs daily with the highest rates being suicides followed by homicides, according to Gun Violence Archive.

Mass shootings garner the most media attention, which is defined as four or more people injured during an incident, as well as mass murders, classified by the Federal Bureau of Investigation as four or more people killed.

“We’ve normalized [mass shootings] and we have become numb,” Chaires said.

In Los Angeles County, there were a total of 3,840 deaths from gun violence between 2016 and 2020, with an average rate of 7.4 deaths per 100,000 people, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, a national nonprofit tracking gun violence data.

Officials overseeing many areas accessible to the public, including El Camino College, have taken steps toward improving community safety. Those steps include police reform legislation including Assembly Bill 481, which aims to increase funding transparency and create a public forum for the acquisition of military equipment and weapons by local departments.

El Camino College Police Chief Michael Trevis presents some of the equipment from the department's arsenal at the Nov. 15 Academic Senate meeting. Trevis elaborated on the recent police reform legislation, Assembly Bill 481, which increases transparency for the funding and acquisition of military-style weapons. (Ethan Cohen | The Union)

“I’ve been in this profession 48 years and it just pains me that we got to do this but the reality of life is this is the world we’re in today,” said El Camino Police Chief Michael Trevis at the Nov. 15, Academic Senate meeting, where the assembly bill was discussed. “It’s not the world I started my profession in [but] I need to keep people informed so they can make informed decisions.”

Detective and firearms instructor Gary Robertson, a 28-year veteran of the El Camino Police Department, spends his time making sure the campus is a safe and secure place so students can focus on learning and educators can focus on teaching.

“For the most part this campus is very safe, I’d have no problem with my family going here,” Robertson said. “[We] are trying to have a safe environment that’s conducive to learning.”

El Camino College Police Detective Gary Robertson speaks about the department's military-style equipment in its possession. The Ford Expedition Watch Commanders Vehicle is the department's mobile command post if the power ever goes out. (Ethan Cohen | The Union)

While El Camino has not faced any immediate threats, it typically sees instances of assault, drug violations and motor vehicle theft. There have been fewer than five weapons violations from 2019 to 2021. There was also a mass shooting threat in 2014 where a student threatened to create a “Santa Barbara-style massacre” on campus.

“The lowest level of crime or potential crime that we deal with is simply disturbances of the peace,” Robertson said.

Robertson said that the campus community is El Camino’s eyes and ears, recommending if students and employees see something that concerns them, they can report it through campus police.

Despite the presence of El Camino police, Chaires’ first impression when she walked to her classes a few years ago was the vast number of entrances that led from the outside into the heart of campus.

“When I first saw that, I was like OK, this is kind of alarming because anybody can walk onto campus,” Chaires said. “If [people] can walk onto campus so willingly, that means they can walk into the buildings the same way.”

Francisco Esqueda presents an AR-15 rifle at a weapons expo held in the North Gym on Friday, Nov. 18. The college is in possession of three Colt 6920 AR-15 rifles. (Ethan Cohen | The Union)

Chaires is not alone.

Many people who work or visit public locations worry about their safety. The El Camino College community is no exception and as a result, conducts active shooter training for employees.

In response, a growing number of consulting services are offered to various institutions including Vince Osorio’s safety firm Shield Assets.

“Wherever you go, whether it’s the mall, going to school or anywhere that has a high population, always keep an eye on what’s going on around you, maintain your situational awareness,” Osorio said. “If you feel the need, go out and seek training on how to respond to an active shooter or an emergency situation.”

El Camino College Police Detective Gary Robertson explains the uses of a less lethal weapon at a weapons expo in the North Gym on Friday, Nov. 18. Less than lethal weapons can still cause serious harm but they are only used in serious situations that involve crowd control. (Ethan Cohen | The Union)

Osorio, who is also the current captain of operations at the Gardena Police Department, highlights the importance of preparation for the unknown. One of his main teaching methods, which was developed by the FBI, is “run, hide, fight,” which is intended to be a short, simple concept on how to respond to mass shootings.

“We want to give people options so that they have an understanding of how they should respond to these types of situations,” Osorio said.

While fear does exist, students like Chaires feel there is always more that can be done by those in authority to make them feel safer in their environment.

For example, she would like to see El Camino increase the presence of patrols and officers walking around campus to ease the fears of students and employees.

“It kind of gave me a new perspective on the world,” Chaires said. “Because anything can happen at any given moment.”


Editor's Note: Fixed grammar issues and enlarged photos on Dec. 10, 2022, at 5:56 a.m.