By Daniel Langhorne, Special to the Independent
The Laguna Beach Police Department will add a second school resource officer following the Laguna Beach Unified School District’s vote Tuesday to approve a cost-sharing agreement with the city.
The oral interview process for prospective candidates for the SRO position will begin next week, Laguna Beach Police Sgt. Jim Cota said.
The city and school district will equally split the $378,000 annual compensation for Cpl. Cornelius Ashton, Laguna Beach’s current school resource officer, and his future team member. This is a steep increase from the district’s current contribution of $25,000 per year.
“We appreciate our ongoing partnership with the City of Laguna Beach and the Laguna Beach Police Department,” Superintendent Jason Viloria said in a prepared statement. “An additional SRO will enhance the safety improvements we have added as a result of the [Orange County Intelligence Assessment Center] recommendations and provide valuable training and education to students on safety-related topics.”
A second school resource officer will give Laguna Beach schools the lowest SRO to student ratio in Orange County, city staffers said.
Amber Offield, a member of the El Morro Elementary School Safety Committee, wrote in an email that the parent group is thankful to school board and district staffers’ recognition of the SRO program’s safety and social-emotional benefits for students.
“The fact that you made a decision to hire the first SRO, Cpl. Ashton, shows your dedication to the students and community,” Offield wrote. “Adding a second SRO at the elementary level is an opportunity to grow on the tremendous success Cpl. Ashton has provided the students over the past year. His professionalism, dedication and heart for guiding the students through challenges is a gift and we are lucky to have him in our district.”
The agreement between the city and school district states that SROs are not formal counselors or educators and will not act as such. However, they can be a resource to assist teachers, faculty, staff and other school community members. They will also be used to educate students and staff on alcohol and drug education, bullying prevention, and school safety.
In August 2018, Ashton became Laguna Beach’s first full-time school resource officer. He’s since become a fixture at Laguna Beach High School’s football games and school dances. Ashton recently told the school board that he responds to students’ text messages and calls around the clock.
At the elementary school level, one of Ashton’s goals has been to teach students not to be afraid when they see a police officer on campus and feel comfortable confiding in SROs as they age into their teenage years.
Some parents have asked for an SRO in every Laguna Beach school, but Mayor Bob Whalen said last month that proposal would be cost-prohibitive.
The city continues to investigate how 911 calls made from cell phones at the El Morro campus could be directly routed to Laguna Beach police rather than the Orange County Sheriff’s Department or the Newport Beach Police Department. Calls from landlines at El Morro already go to Laguna Beach dispatchers.