Newport-Mesa Unified School District campuses in Costa Mesa will be without a dedicated police presence when classes start Tuesday, according to school and police officials.
Costa Mesa police said they don’t have enough staff to field even a part-time officer specifically for schools as the department did in the spring.
“We’re going through a heavy attrition cycle and don’t have the staffing to fill the positions,” Costa Mesa police Chief Tom Gazsi said.
Instead, patrol officers whose areas include Estancia and Costa Mesa high schools, will serve as police liaisons and spend as much time on the campuses as possible, according to police and school officials.
“While not a full-time officer, the intent is for the SLO [school liaison officer] to spend a significant amount of time at the school as the point person for the department,” Newport-Mesa Unified spokeswoman Laura Boss said in an email.
In years past, at least two police officers — known as school resource officers, or SROs — have been stationed at Estancia, Costa Mesa High and the city’s middle schools.
In October, Costa Mesa’s last SRO retired and hasn’t been replaced, although the department intends to do so.
“We are still very supportive of the SRO program,” Gazsi said. “We intend to fill it on a full-time basis in the future.”
The Costa Mesa Police Department is hiring for the first time since 2008, when the city instituted a hiring freeze.
The department has brought onboard about half a dozen officers so far in 2013, but as of July 31, it was still trying to fill 12 vacancies, according to the city’s human resources department.
More vacancies may be on the horizon for the department, which has about 130 positions for sworn officers. In December, chief Gazsi told school officials that he expects to lose about 20 officers over the next 18 months.
He announced that news while speaking at a special school board meeting to discuss campus safety just days after the deadly shootings in Newtown, Conn.
During the spring semester following that tragedy, Costa Mesa rehired a part-time SRO, but even that stopgap measure will be unavailable this fall, Gazsi said.
Over the summer, the school district considered hiring a private company to provide armed school security but decided to stick with Costa Mesa police.
Supt. Fred Navarro previously said private security could have been more expensive than an SRO program and that he is confident Gazsi will institute a plan that keeps students safe regardless of police staffing levels.
Newport police presence
Newport Beach will still provide an SRO each at Newport Harbor High School and Corona del Mar High School.
Newport-Mesa Unified and the Newport Beach Police Department split the cost of those officers’ total compensation, about $340,000, last school year, according to school board documents.
Under the last SRO contract with Costa Mesa, the city provided only one SRO for the 2011-12 school year, and Newport-Mesa Unified paid the entirety of his total compensation, about $180,000.
When Costa Mesa police could no longer staff even one campus officer, the contract wasn’t renewed.
Costa Mesa police may take a cue from Newport to provide some school presence in the future. In addition to SROs, Newport police have unarmed civilian employees play a part in the classroom, teaching students about online safety, prevention of bullying and the dangers of drugs and alcohol.
“We’re also looking at possibly civilianizing some school-related positions similar to other agencies in the area,” Gazsi said.