Proposed agreement with police would give Laguna Beach campuses their first full-time school resource officer

A full-time school resource officer could be on duty as early as the fall at Laguna Beach High School.
A full-time school resource officer could be on duty as early as the fall at Laguna Beach High School.
(File Photo)

A school resource officer could be a daily fixture on Laguna Beach campuses for the first time under a proposal being weighed by school district leaders.

The proposed agreement between the Laguna Beach Unified School District and the city Police Department calls for a full-time police officer to monitor Laguna Beach High School, Thurston Middle School and El Morro and Top of the World elementary schools.

The district board of trustees is expected to vote on the agreement Aug. 21. If approved, the pact could take effect by the fall and would last until August 2021.

Laguna Beach Police Chief Laura Farinella told the school board during a presentation Tuesday that the school resource officer, or SRO, would focus on enhancing school safety, preventing drug and alcohol abuse and cyber bullying and helping to foster social media responsibility among students. The officer also would document and investigate crimes on campus.

A part-time juvenile detective has spent time monitoring Laguna Beach campuses in recent years, but the schools have not had a full-time officer.

Farinella said she hopes school officials and the SRO will work “as a team to identify and handle concerns before they grow, which will build a stronger school and city community.”

“I want the SRO to have fun, to engage with the students and be their cheerleader and mentor and guide [them] as they navigate through life,” she added.

Board President Jan Vickers said the intent of the proposal is not to criminalize students’ behavior but to educate them to make good decisions.

“I would say we have a common desire to not ruin someone’s life over a poor adolescent decision,” she said.

Leisa Winston, Laguna Beach Unified assistant superintendent of human resources and communications, said, “The role of the school resource officer is aligned with the district’s focus on educating the whole child, in addition to the support provided by counselors, student support specialists, psychologists and other school staff.”

School resource officers have been a fixture for years in cities such as Newport Beach, Huntington Beach and Costa Mesa.

Winston said Laguna Beach Unified officials have been talking a long time about bringing in a full-time SRO. She said the discussions were “not necessarily connected to anything specific,” such as threats of violence or school shootings that have grabbed headlines nationwide.

However, school safety has been on the minds of educators and parents in several local districts since a gunman opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., in February, killing 17 people.

Under the Laguna proposal, the SRO position would be filled with a current Police Department employee. The school district would not provide funds for the position. So far, three officers have expressed interest in the role, Farinella said.

Times Community News contributor Daniel Langhorne contributed to this report.

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