COSTA MESA — The school board voted this week to negotiate an agreement with the city of Costa Mesa to reassign sworn police officers at schools.
But the city's budget difficulties leave up in the air the possibility of the city to continue having dedicated sworn officers to Costa Mesa's high and middle schools.
Newport-Mesa Unified trustees on Tuesday authorized acting Supt. Paul Reed to enter into an agreement for half the cost — up to $187,250 — of two sworn police officers to patrol the campuses.
"I want to make sure to impress upon the city the importance of these officers to our students," said Trustee Dana Black.
Meanwhile, city officials are discussing the possibility of making changes to the School Resource Officer (SRO) program, including most recently assigning sworn reserve officers to schools.
Board members, however, expressed concern that the district could be assigned unsworn officers who can't make arrests. That's an important requirement, they argued, adding that they wanted sworn officers with that capability.
"The people who are making these recommendations do not know what they are talking about," said Trustee Dave Brooks, a former Costa Mesa Police Department captain.
Although the cash-strapped city has not made a final decision, the school board made it clear that the agreement is only valid for sworn officers and any changes would have to be renegotiated.
The district and city have partnered on the program since 2001.
Trustee Katrina Foley credited the police presence with lower on-campus crime rates.
"It's important also because the police car sits out there in all of our schools, and it's a deterrent," she said.
Two SROs work four days a week — one at the combined Costa Mesa middle and high school campus, the other at Estancia High School and TeWinkle Middle School.
Officers patrol the campuses, work in conjunction with the gang unit and serve as a resource for students and staff.
SROs build relationships with staff and the students, some of whom get to see police officers as someone on their side, Brooks said.
"That's the whole root of the concept," he said.
The district has seen a drop in student disciplinary actions, and while the preventive power of having the sworn officers on campus is hard to quantify and measure, it is a factor, Brooks said.
—Staff writers Lauren Williams and Joseph Serna contributed to this report.