The Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) suspended the Fullerton College Police Academy’s certification on Oct. 5, 2015. POST certified training is a requirement to be sworn in as a peace officer in California. The FCPA has a handful of compliance issues, according to North Orange County Community College District (NOCCCD) and POST documents.
Amidst the recent suspension of the program, several issues surrounding the FCPA have come to the surface, including accounting discrepancies, a FCPA instructor charged with misdemeanor battery and most recently, a pending class action claim brought by former academy students.
Ralph Brown, the POST Public Information Officer, explained it is uncommon for an academy to have their certification suspended and there are typically many years between occurrences.
“We’re trying to make the students whole. We’re doing this through this gap course training that we’re developing,” Brown said.
Fullerton College is committed to work with the academy students as well.
“Whatever the cost is, whenever, whatever, we don’t want there to be any financial burden to the alumni of class number 44,” said Director of Campus Communications Lisa McPheron.
The gap training, which POST deemed necessary for class 44 graduates, will cover areas not initially taught or adequately covered by FCPA.
“The gap training are areas that we identified during our audit as being either difficult to completely identify and trace or may conflict with the records the college had conflicted with what is a state regulation or penal code requirement,” Brown said.
The college’s view on gap training differs from that of POST.
“This notion that a gap training course is needed we disagree with. They have not formally reviewed the police academy,” McPheron said.
According to Fullerton College officials, the FCPA asked POST in March where the gap in the training was, but they were not able to point out anything that was not covered.
“We maintain we did everything right, the campus, the department, the police academy did everything right,” Vice President of Instruction José Ramón Núňez said at a March faculty senate meeting.
Despite Núňez’s claims, Brown identified three gap areas the FCPA had in their academy.
“The three areas are scenario testing, arrest and control training and testing and presenting legislative mandates,” Brown said.
According to McPheron, POST is required to review the police academy every three years, but they are nine years behind on giving the college a formal review.
POST was scheduled to do a Basic Course Certification Review in 2012, but did not because of budget restrictions, according to Brown.
“Every year, they’re [POST] required to certify the courses that our students take and every year they’ve certified our courses and gave us no indication that there were problems of the magnitude that they alerted us to after the fall term started,” McPheron said.
The college is working to resolve the issues with the academy and graduates.
“Our first priority is to work with POST to resolve this matter for our alumni. Once that step is complete, the college will then be in a position to review the next steps and options as it relates to the FCPA,” Fullerton College President Greg Schulz said in a statement.
However, not everyone believes the police academy is as important to Fullerton College.
“I’m not sure going forward the police academy is as important to the school as it has been in the past,” former Faculty Senate President Marcus Wilson said. “And now that we’re stepping back and looking at how the police academy operates and the connection between the police academy and the college as a whole personally I think that is going to be reevaluated.”
The issues surrounding the police academy has brought up the question of whether the academy should be brought back.
“We need to determine whether a police academy is necessary to fulfill the educational mission of the college, and I don’t see it as a crucial part of that mission,” Wilson said.
According to Wilson, other faculty members don’t see it as necessary for the long term educational plan for the college.
“We should have seen a lot of this coming and we didn’t,” Wilson said.
In March 2009, POST performed the BCCR and issues within the academy began to come to light. The 2009 BCCR was written but never finalized.
POST found that many of the instructors did not have resumes included in their files, and many of the ones who did only included one page of the resume. Very few of the instructor files provided training certificates to prove instructors have been trained, according to POST.
The 2009 BCCR found no evidence that instructor resumes were reviewed and approved by an academy designee to ensure instructors were qualified. Many instructors did not meet the minimum training standards in Physical Training, Arrest Methods and Baton/Impact Weapons blocks of instruction, POST said.
The 2009 BCCR also revealed the students had the ability to evaluate the course as a whole, but not the instructors individually. When instructors are not evaluated or critiqued, the quality of instruction cannot be assured, the BCCR stated.
Another issue brought to light in the 2009 BCCR was that staff members had conflicting reports as to where student owned firearms were stored during non-firearm related activities such as physical training. One staff member said the firearms and duty belts were locked in a classroom, another said they were set on the grass under the supervision of a staff member and yet another said they were worn during physical training.
The Work Sample Test Battery is a type of agility test administered to students. POST found the test did not meet the regulations. The 500-yard run was administered on concrete instead of a standard track. Additionally, the solid wall, chain-link fence and sawhorse did not meet the required dimensions.
An academy student can only miss up to five percent of course certified hours. However, the 2009 BCCR found the attendance log only noted if a student was late or absent for the day. The BCCR noted that this would have created a problem determining if a student missed more than 5 percent of certified hours.
POST wasn’t the only entity to find discrepancies. An audit of the academy performed by the NOCCCD and released in 2010 uncovered some other issues.
According to the 2009-2010 review, the FCPA successfully completed its POST recertification on March 26, 2009.
The program was reviewed by five participants. The participants were Scott Mckenzie (Former Dean Of Technology), EJ Pellegrino (Department Coordinator), Edgar Oglesby (Professor), Robert Smitson (Academy Coordinator) and Jerry Stokes (Academy Instructor).
But the documentation from a NOCCCD internal audit shows there were eight existing issues after passing recertification. This audit displays data from the years 2003 to 2012.
One issue shown from the audit was its financial situation.
From January 12, 2008 through November 1, 2008, the data shows how much money was recorded by the academy.
The total wages paid out in 2008 to full time and adjunct faculty members was $798,449. The total FTES reported was only $568,799. It is unclear where the additional $229,650 paid out to the faculty members came from.
The Hornet requested an accounting of the department budget and expenses for 2012-15, but the NOCCCD has yet to respond with that information.
Another issue in the audit was the faculty time sheets. The time sheets were created as a vehicle to ensure proper control of reporting time.
“It is also a vehicle that can be easily misused and lead to fraud if proper controls are not in place,” according to the NOCCCD audit.
The audit states in September 2008, that Smitson, the academy coordinator prepared and approved all time sheets prior to forwarding them to the division Dean for final approval.
Also in January 2009, it appeared Smitson signed the name of a faculty member on the latter’s timesheet, not the individual assigned to perform the work, according to the district audit.
After this altercation with the time sheets, the Fullerton College Links Management Response team implemented steps to the process to assure proper accounting practices in the future.
The following sequence was developed jointly by former Dean Scott McKenzie and former Director of Budget & Finance Adam O’Connor.
In addition to the financial issue there was an issue with the fees paid by cadets.
Each cadet was charged $500 at the start of the academy to defray the cost of materials and other publications required for use. But the total cost of material needed for the cadets is $349.38.
Any unused fees are collected and are retained in the bursar account. The Bursar’s Office provides student account and billing information; receives payments for tuition, fees and miscellaneous campus charges; provides collection of delinquent accounts; delivers refunds and financial aid residuals after disbursement. At the end of the program, any unused fees paid by cadets should be returned at the end of the program.
In the district audit a year by year accounting shows the amounts that continued to build up in the account.
The funds accumulated annually indicates the academy overcharged cadets and more importantly, did not refund students at the end of their term as promised.
Although POST requires a BCCR audit every three years, in 2012, it was not performed due to budgetary issues at the time.
POST did, however, get back on track last year. The 2015 BCCR is still being written but has been summarized.
POST dispatched a team of consultants from their Basic Training Bureau to review the academy on Sept. 10, 2015. The BTB advised the academy of the severity of POST’s concerns.
Class 44, which graduated in May 2015, was audited by POST to determine if it had received an appropriate level of training to be equal to POST regulations. They found multiple compliance violations and that many components of the Regular Basic Course (RBC) deviated from POST mandates.
Inadequate attendance tracking procedure was identified by POST. Students were marked absent or late, but there was no documentation of making up the day or time missed.
POST requires documentation by the course coordinator explaining how a student successfully completed the course if more than five percent of certified hours were missed, according to POST.
FCPA reported full attendance, meaning all 1,091 hours were completed by all 31 graduating students with no student hours missed.
However according to POST, the FCPA’s own daily attendance logs deviated from that assertion and showed multiple absences and tardies possibly equalling more than five percent for some students.
A RBC must test in a minimum of 14 different scenarios and be accomplished using POST approved scripts, evaluation and scoring forms. Any academy forms must be approved prior by POST.
POST found the FCPA conducted 11 instead of the 14 scenarios and used no scripts at all. The BCCR found the student performance forms the academy used failed to measure a majority of the performance objectives set by POST.
POST determined class 44 had not received all components required by POST and California law to verify the completion of RBC. As a result, the class did not meet the requirements to exercise peace officer powers and was decertified.
After the findings, class 45 was subsequently shut down midway through its term and the FCPA’s POST Certification was suspended.
In the months following the suspension, FCPA instructor Todd Rheingold was charged with misdemeanor battery on two separate occasions. According to the Orange County District Attorney’s office, the alleged incidents took place on campus between September and October 2015. Arraignment is scheduled for next week.
In response to the academy’s decertification and abrupt suspension, cadets from classes 44 and 45 recently brought forth a class action claim against the FCPA.
With the magnitude and volume of issues unearthed, Fullerton College must now look at the academy as a whole and decide whether it wants to bring the police academy program back.
Wilson brought up how now is a good time to look at and evaluate the Fullerton College police academy program.
“I think now we really have a great opportunity to look at this honestly. We have a new dean in that division, we have a new president and we have a new chancellor,” Wilson said. “All three of those people come to this with a fresh set of eyes. No bias, no hidden agenda, and I think when the three of them look at this situation in the context of what’s happened, I trust they’ll make the right decision.”
Class Action Claim:
Fullerton College Police Academy’s former students file class action claim.
In April, the Roberts Law Firm in Newport Beach filed the class action claim against the North Orange County Community College School District and Fullerton College.
The claim accuses the school district and former academy director Jerry Lee Stokes of negligent misrepresentation, training, hiring, supervision and fraud.
The last two academy classes, class 44 and 45, are being represented by eight former students with 73 in total involved in the claim. The academy is accused of not properly certifying the classes with POST before they were set to begin.
California law states an academy must receive POST certification 30 days prior to day one of instruction. According to the claim, Stokes promised students of classes 44 and 45 on the first day that POST certification would be approved by the end of the term, but the claim accuses him of knowing that was not possible.
The claim seeks $4.75 million, according to attorney Michael Jeandron of the Roberts Law Firm.
The claim must be accepted or rejected within 45 days or it is automatically rejected. If the claim is rejected, a class action lawsuit will be filed on behalf of the 73 students.
Currier & Hudson has been the law firm consulting the college about the police academy, but Lisa McPheron, director of campus communication, is unsure who will represent the school if it turns into litigation.
Jeandron said he doesn’t expect to hear back from the college and doesn’t expect them to accept the claim and wishes the college would take responsibility for the students.
Fullerton College and NOCCCD officials have remained critical of how POST has handled the entire process.
“POST has failed in their oversight, consistently neglecting to give clear, actionable direction for the College to responded to. Yet, even in the face of this mismanagement, Fullerton College has gone above and beyond to mitigate the damages felt by our students, including agreeing to pay for the unnecessary gap training for Class 44. But it is difficult to work with an agency that doesn’t function as it’s designed to, and, unfortunately, our students are now paying the price,” Kai Stearns-Moore, District Director of Public and Governmental Affairs, said in a statement.