Laguna Beach police chief will retire in July

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Laguna Beach police chief Laura Farinella plans to retire in July. (file photo)

Laguna Beach police chief Laura Farinella announced Monday she will retire in July after five years with the department and 30 years in law enforcement.

In March 2015, Farinella shattered a glass ceiling as Laguna Beach’s first female police chief and Orange County’s first openly gay police chief.

“Serving as Chief for the Laguna Beach Police Department has been one of the greatest honors of my career,” Farinella said in a prepared statement. “I am extremely proud of the work the Laguna Beach Police Department has done and all of the new ways we’ve been able to connect with our community. I am confident the achievements and momentum created by this Department will continue to grow.

Under Chief Farinella’s leadership, Laguna Beach has experienced record-low crime rates in both 2018 and 2019. As Chief of Police, Farinella led the Department while it launched a series of new policing programs, including the addition of full-time jailers, beach patrol officers, a Downtown foot-beat patrol, and an award-winning school resource officer program.

In response to city council members’ concerns about drug use and other bad behavior at Main Beach and Heisler Park, she established a police presence by installing police information booths manned during weekends.

“Chief Farinella leaves a legacy as a respected leader with a dedication to community-oriented policing, public safety and maintaining the highest standards of professional conduct in the Department,” City Manager John Pietig said in a prepared statement. “The City of Laguna Beach is grateful to Chief Farinella for her leadership, unwavering commitment to this community and always putting the safety of our residents first.”

Last year, city and school district officials faced a rebellion by parents who wanted a more formal police presence at local campuses, particularly at El Morro Elementary School, which sits in an unincorporated county island. Farinella and Capt. Jeff Calvert secured an interjurisdictional agreement with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department to memorialize a long-standing pact allowing its police officers to respond to El Morro.

The hiring of a second full-time school resource officer appears to have largely assuaged parents’ safety concerns for now.

Prior to her service in Laguna Beach, Farinella worked for the Long Beach Police Department for 25 years. While in Long Beach she worked all Patrol Divisions, oversaw Internal Affairs as a sergeant, and served as the assistant to the Deputy Chief of Investigations. As a commander, she managed communications, East Patrol, and the Gang and Violent Crimes Divisions. She also served as the Long Beach Police Chief of Staff and Support Bureau Deputy Chief.

Farinella is the latest in a string of senior city staffers to depart Laguna Beach.

Greg Pfost, director of community development, Paula Faust, deputy director of public works, and Dale Shuck, deputy director of public works retired last year.

Late last year, Marc Wiener was recruited from Carmel-by-the-Sea to fill Pfost’s role and Faust was replaced by Michael Litschi, formerly of the Orange County Transportation Authority.

Former assistant city manager Christa Johnson started as Del Mar city manager last month. Jordan Villwock, former emergency operations coordinator, took a position as Ontario’s fire administrative director.

Recruitment for a new police chief will start soon, city leaders said.

“The City always anticipates some level of turnover among a workforce of nearly 280 full-time employees,” Pietig said in January. “Many employees are reaching retirement age or are seeking promotional opportunities that are not available in Laguna Beach simply because positions and funding are limited.”

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