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Schools to stick with police surveillance

Newport-Mesa district had considered hiring armed private guards but ended up rejecting that idea.

August 16, 2013|By Jeremiah Dobruck

After spending the summer considering whether to hire armed guards to watch over some Costa Mesa schools, the school district has decided to stick with police officers — although fewer than in the past — according to school officials.

Supt. Fred Navarro said he wasn't aware of any other school district hiring year-round private armed security, adding, "I don't think it's something we want to be out on the forefront with."

Over the school break, Newport-Mesa Unified School District officials talked with two companies vying to provide that service in Costa Mesa.

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"We did a lot of homework, and we spent our whole summer just really checking it out, talking with attorneys, checking with insurance," Navarro said.

Outsourcing would have served as a bridge of sorts while the Costa Mesa Police Department rebuilds its school resource officer, or SRO, program.

The SRO program provided police officers to Costa Mesa schools until it was discontinued last year. The program was revived with one part-time officer in the spring semester.

"I think everyone knew that Chief [Tom] Gazsi was limited on staff," Navarro said. "We were having a hard time staffing the SRO program because he has other competing needs."

What this year's SRO program will entail remains uncertain because the Police Department is still determining how many officers it can dedicate to schools in the fall.

A best-case scenario would be similar to last spring, one part-time SRO combined with increased patrols from other police employees, Gazsi said.

Two SRO positions are budgeted, however, and the program will be revamped as the department hires, Gazsi said.

At the end of July, CMPD was trying to fill 12 vacancies, according to the city's human resources department.

"We've had a history of SROs in the high schools and some junior high schools," Gazsi said. "As we restore staffing levels, it's my intent to bring back those positions in the future, as well as other specialty assignments that provide service to Costa Mesa."

The school district contracts with the cities of Newport Beach and Costa Mesa to provide SROs.

The Newport Beach Police Department dedicates two officers to schools and splits the cost of their compensation with the district, billing Newport-Mesa Unified about $170,000 last school year.

The 2011-12 school year was the last time the school district had an SRO contract with Costa Mesa.

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