City to Consider Adding School Resource Officer

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By Daniel Langhorne, Special to the Independent

The Laguna Beach City Council on Tuesday will consider adding a second school resource officer following intense lobbying from parents concerned about school safety.

If approved by the Council and Board of Education, the city of Laguna Beach and the Laguna Beach Unified School District would equally split the $378,000 annual compensation for Cpl. Cornelius Ashton, Laguna Beach’s current school resource officer, and a second unidentified officer. This would be a steep increase from the district’s current contribution of $25,000 per year.

“If the recommendation to expand the current SRO program to two officers is approved, the City and the School District would have the lowest ratio of students per [school resource officer] of all cities surveyed, and likely all of the cities in the County,” according to a staff report.

If the agreement is approved, Laguna Beach would have one school resource officer per 1,522 students.

In comparison, Irvine has 12 school resource officers, one per 2,917 students; Newport Beach has three school resource officers, one per 7,150 students; and Huntington Beach has two school resource officers, one per 25,000 students.

In addition to half the cost of the two officers’ compensation, the city would also purchase a $70,000 patrol car for the new school resource officer. The district would be expected to contribute about a quarter of the vehicle’s cost.

City Manager John Pietig told the Independent earlier this month that the city did not have the financial resources to contribute to a second school resource officer. However, a cost-sharing deal was apparently hammered out after meeting between Pietig and Superintendent Jason Viloria on Oct. 18.

This meeting was held after three unspent .22 caliber bullets were found at Thurston Middle School’s campus on Monday and Wednesday last week. Parents were rattled to learn the school district waited two days to notify parents and only after a third bullet was discovered.

School administrators claimed they didn’t notify parents of the bullets found Oct. 14 because there wasn’t an “immediate threat.”

“I think anytime something alarming is found on campus, parents should know so they can make their own decision about their kids,” said Amber Offield, a member of the El Morro Elementary Safety Committee.

On Tuesday, the City Council will also discuss parents’ idea of annexing El Morro Elementary to bring the campus squarely under the jurisdiction of Laguna Beach police.

The Orange County Local Agency Formation Commission (OC LAFCO) would need to approve the annexation and the process could take at least a year.

OC LAFCO told city staffers that it would require the city to also annex land between El Morro and the existing limit, including the Crystal Cove State Park Moro Campground, to avoid creating an “island” in the middle of an unincorporated area.

The city estimates it will cost taxpayers more than $100,000 to complete applications, GIS mapping, land surveys, stakeholder meetings, and required hearings before local, county, and state agencies.

City staffers are hopeful that reprogramming the cell tower near El Morro to send 911 calls to the Laguna Beach Police Department might cure complaints about calls for service being bounced to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, according to the staff report. However, it’s not clear whether that can be done without disrupting calls from Newport Coast and adjacent unincorporated areas.

“While the annexation of El Morro School may be desirable, it is questionable whether it would be worth the cost,” city staff said. “If a way can be found to annex El Morro through a quicker and less costly process, it may be prudent to revisit the matter at that time.”

 

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