Laguna Beach’s first female police chief retires after nearly 31 years with a badge

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Former Laguna Beach police chief Laura Farinella with her wife Dawn, son Charlie, and daughter Emily shortly before Farinella’s retirement on Dec. 3. Photo by Daniel Langhorne

Former Laguna Beach police chief Laura Farinella slept in Friday morning, the first of her retirement, and plans to hike Laguna Canyon Wilderness Park this weekend.

Her departure from Laguna Beach after more than five and a half years with the Laguna Beach Police Department is a historic milestone. 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.

Farinella’s wife Dawn and their children Emily and Charlie met the outgoing chief for a photo session in front of the Police Department on Thursday evening. They were then ushered off to a private event for public safety employees at the city motor pool lot. A Laguna Beach fire engine, marine safety vehicle, and patrol car could be seen with their lights on from Broadway Street.

“I feel like this is my family,” Farinella said. “It’s been an emotional week.”

Farinella started her last day at work at 7:30 a.m. with signing documents and responding to emails. Later, she walked to the Boardwalk and Main Beach Lifeguard Tower with Capt. Jeff Calvert.

“This was our tradition to connect with the community,” she said.

Farinella also squeezed in one more meeting with fellow department heads before she wrapped up packing her office.

Farinella had announced in early March that she planned to retire in July after almost 31 years in law enforcement. The search for her replacement was launched shortly after. Gov. Gavin Newsom then announced a stay-at-home order due to COVID-19. The economic fallout prompted city leaders to trim departments’ budgets to prepare for a dip in hotel and sales tax revenue. Public safety staffing was always maintained during this period, city officials said.

This was also followed by nationwide protests over the murder of George Floyd by a former Minneapolis police officer. Black Lives Matter protests at Main Beach were peaceful and subsequently the Laguna Beach City Council voted to appoint an Ad Hoc Task Force to advised the future chief and city manager on local policies and training.

In light of these turbulent times, Farinella agreed to postpone her retirement for months. There was one silver lining for her family. In the pandemic’s early days, City Manager John Pietig encouraged city employees to work from home when possible.

“She’s been home a lot because of Covid so it seems like a natural transition than a sudden one,” said Farinella’s daughter Emily, who recently graduated from UC Irvine.

When asked how it feels to know his mom won’t have to wear a badge anymore, Farinella’s son Charlie said, “It’s a stress reliever.”

“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 in March. “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 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.”

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.

Robert Thompson, chief of police for Dixon, Calif., is scheduled to become the top cop in Laguna Beach starting Jan. 18. Until then, Acting Chief Jason Kravetz will lead the department.

Farinella said her successor will need to finish the switch to a new consequential dispatch and records system, hire new employees to replace those lost through attrition, and continue policing efforts in neighborhoods disproportionately impacted by visitors.

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