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Officer honored for homeless outreach

Jason Farris had no idea what his job entailed when the Laguna Beach Police Department selected him three years ago to work with the city’s homeless population — nor did city officials.

He was honored at the March 1 City Council meeting, with commendations from council members, City Manager John Pietig and Police Chief Paul Workman, who announced that Officer Mike Short will succeed Farris as the department’s community outreach officer.

“You stepped into a really difficult situation, and I don’t think we could have found a better person to do the job,” said Mayor Toni Iseman. “When we were walking downtown, I saw the relationship you had with the homeless — how they knew you and you knew them and they would do for you what they wouldn’t do for anyone else. I thought, ‘this guy’s got magic.’ ”

Iseman and Councilman Kelly Boyd, who represented the council on two task forces that dealt with homeless issues, worked closely with Ferris.

“Looking back, Toni and I really appreciate what you did — the work you have done with the homeless — and I think our community is a lot better off now,” Boyd said. “The homeless are off the streets and I know how hard you worked to get some of them to go home or move along whether to Friendship Shelter or other places. Mike, you have some big shoes to fill and I know you’ll do it.”

Farris was the city’s first community outreach officer, a position created specifically to work with the city’s homeless population.

Pietig, who was the staff point man for homeless issues, said Farris’ job required finding out what, if anything, other cities were doing about homelessness and coming up with unique solutions that had never before been tried.

Farris, who was reassigned in December, was awarded the Medal of Merit at the last Police Awards Banquet.

“Throughout the [outreach] process, I didn’t find anyone who didn’t respect Jason, including even most of the homeless that often he’d take adverse actions to — and that is quite an accomplishment,” Pietig said.

Farris has been promoted to corporal and will serve as a training officer, but he will continue to work closely with his successor, Workman said.

A three-to four-year rotation is department policy in order to give officers experience in different positions.

Farris began with the department about nine years ago as a reserve officer and briefly worked in dispatch before being hired and spending five years as a patrol officer, Sgt. Louise Callus said.