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Return of campus police officers in question

Some worry not being able to quell at-risk behavior if they are gone. Police chief says there is a 'great probability' of them returning, but it's not 100% certain.

June 08, 2012|By Lauren Williams

Costa Mesa police officers assigned to city schools will return to regular patrol duties this summer, and there is no guarantee they will return to their school posts when classes start in the fall, officials said.

The school resource officers, or SROs, act as campus mentors and deal with problems that go beyond what school authorities can handle. During the summer, however, the SROs, as well as a K-9 and traffic officer, will help fill positions left open by departmental restructuring and on-duty injuries.

"This is not a departure from what we would typically do over summer," Police Chief Tom Gazsi said. "It's my hope that we can return them to school in the fall after the summer and the recovery of injuries."

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During the school year, SROs are assigned to Estancia and Costa Mesa high schools, as well as Costa Mesa and TeWinkle middle schools.

Richard Gomez, a security officer at Costa Mesa High, said he doesn't believe the SROs will be coming back. He said it was clear from the information given at a recent security meeting that the change is meant to be permanent.

But even without a dedicated SRO, patrol officers would still be needed often on campus — at least twice a day, Gomez said.

Gazsi said he was committed to bringing officers back to the campuses as soon as possible. There is a "great probability" they will return in the fall, he said, but it's not a 100% certainty.

Typically, it's during the summer months that the SROs work with the department's gang unit or take vacations, Gazsi said.

Officers also help with an increase in visitors to the Orange County Fair and to and from the beach.

"Adjustments through the summer allow us to provide the best service available to the community," Gazsi said.

Some community members have expressed concerns about campus safety, while Katrina Foley, a trustee on the Newport-Mesa Unified school board, said she's skeptical of officers returning to the schools after summer break given the city's current political situation.

"I think it's unfortunate that politics is going to prevent keeping our schools and communities safe," she said.

SROs are crucial to quelling any criminal activity or at-risk behavior they see from students, Foley said.

"Crime prevention is key to maintaining a safe community," she said.

The schools are waiting for an official city letter before assessing the situation, district spokeswoman Laura Boss said in an email to the Daily Pilot.

But not everyone is upset.

"That is not a problem, and we will work it out when school starts in the fall," said school board President David Brooks, a former Costa Mesa police captain.

Costa Mesa, however, isn't alone in reassigning its officers during the summer months. According to Newport Beach Police Department spokeswoman Kathy Lowe, Newport's two SROs will also move into summertime patrols.

Foley pointed to other area police forces that are operating at full staffing levels, including Irvine, as potentially wooing away Costa Mesa officers who may see their job as threatened because of staff reductions.

"We might even lose more officers out of the city because of politics," she said.

— Daily Pilot staffers Alicia Lopez and Britney Barnes also contributed to this report.

lauren.williams@latimes.com

Twitter: @lawilliams30

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