Police to staff Mesa, Estancia again

<i>This post has been corrected, as noted below.</i>

Costa Mesa police officers are going back to school full time next week after more than a year on hiatus.

The Police Department is reviving its school resource officer, or SRO, program that had sputtered for more than a year because of a lack of police officers available to staff it.

Starting Monday, Costa Mesa and Estancia high schools will each have an officer assigned between four and eight hours each school day, according to Costa Mesa Police Chief Tom Gazsi.

“I’m really excited to have them back,” said Martha Fluor, vice president of the Newport-Mesa Unified School District board of trustees.

Estancia and Mesa have been without a full-time police presence since 2012, when the CMPD announced it didn’t have enough staffing to fill the slots.

To cover that gap, Costa Mesa police officers offered to work more hours starting Monday. The police department and school district will split the cost of overtime to pay officers who volunteer to take the extra shifts, Gazsi said.

“They stepped up,” Gazsi said of his officers. “They recognized the need to do this.”

A lack of officers at Costa Mesa schools has been a frequent point of discussion since the Newport-Mesa school board renewed its focus on school security in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in Connecticut.

A retired officer from Costa Mesa had filled in as a part-time school resource officer in 2013, but that arrangement ended in November.

By comparison, Newport Beach has two police officers dedicated to its high school campuses.

The CMPD felt a staffing crunch after a 2011 City Council vote to downsize the department followed by a delay in filling any police vacancies while council members pushed for a second-tier pension plan for new hires.

The Police Department began hiring again in December 2012, but it is not yet fully staffed.

“We are vigorously hiring as quickly as we possibly can,” Gazsi said, adding that other law enforcement agencies in the area are doing the same.

“The officers’ filling this vacancy on an overtime basis then takes pressure off of our field units that are working the day watch,” Gazsi said. “I’m just incredibly pleased that our guys and gals were willing to step up and support this.”

[For the record, 10:44 a.m. Feb. 7: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that officers working at the high schools would volunteer some hours. In fact, all shifts at the schools will be paid. The officers are volunteering to take the assignment in addition to their normal duties.]