Community, council views mixed on armed presence in schools

The discussion to hire an expert to guide the city in response to school safety, and the idea to implement armed presence in local schools, was the main topic of discussion during the City Council meeting on Monday, June 27. Item 7C and 7D, was the most anticipated item discussed on the agenda, which involved implementing a program to protect school students from gun violence. At the request of Mayor Pro Tem Bruce Silverstein, the item was continued from June 13. 

To start off the meeting, Interim City Attorney John Cotti announced his departure, and Assistant City Attorney Trevor Rusin was appointed as the new interim city attorney. 

“I wanted to thank you all and the public for all their support over the past 18 months, you have a great city, a great council and a great, great staff, so I wish you all well and I will miss you,” Cotti said. 

The council also acknowledged the Boys & Girls Club of Malibu (BGCM) Executive Director Kasey Earnest and the 2022 Youth of the Year Candidates. 

Southern California Edison Government Relations Manager Andrew Thomas provided a presentation on the Wildfire Mitigation and said his department will also provide a full wildfire reliability report with the City of Malibu on July 6. 

While the spring school year just ended, the fall semester is right around the corner. The council called an emergency to create a Request for Proposal (RFP) before the school year on Aug. 15.

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In the wake of the most recent mass/school shootings, Mayor Paul Grisanti and Councilmember Karen Farrer met with representatives of Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) on May 27 to discuss augmenting security at local public schools.

Farrer said that during the meeting, Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff Station Capt. Jennifer Seetoo recommended hiring private security rather than having sheriff’s personnel patrolling because it would cost less than hiring a deputy full-time and the city would have more options and control. 

“It was really kind of a learning session for all of us and what we came to was not a recommendation for any particular service or response,” Farrer said. “It seems like a good way to approach this was what Mayor Grisanti and I have asked for, Item 7d, which is for the city to put out a request for a proposal to hire two private security firms and get their responses on how they would approach this. I think it would include everything from an assessment on the campus, and then go from there.”

Farrer also said they received mixed opinions and concerns from parents and faculty in implementing additional armed security on campus. 

“In my mind it’s an open question,” Farrer said. “I want the community to be heard on this and to feel that the city is doing what it can to address what, in my opinion, is a completely unacceptable situation.”

Eight people spoke during public comment, mostly parents, faculty and community members. 

“I hope that a Request for a Proposal can be made and I hope it’s robust,” Stacy Rouse said. “I hope it really is able to cover the spectrum of where people are at, what their knowledge is, what they’re comfortable with, and that we take good research that is out there for what really makes a community safe and what doesn’t and that we we really discuss this together and take appropriate action. I’m so grateful to you as the city willing to put a request out there and to come along with funding since the school district does not fund that directly.”

Malibu Middle and High School teacher and Malibu School Safety Committee member Maia Zander expressed her concerns in implementing an armed presence on campus. 

“I feel really conflicted about this, but the more I think about this the more concerned I am,” she said. “I called as many teachers as I could get a hold of. Feedback was pretty mixed, but a very sizable majority was completely against any armed presence and especially private security. An armed presence will make many people on our campus feel less safe — those are the exact words I heard over and over when I talked to people.”

Zander said she heard from students of color that they would feel less welcomed, less safe and viewed at more suspicion when on campus.

“To tie it all together if we cant be sure that an armed presence will actually make us safer, but their presence will definitely make members of our community feel less safe, and there’s a chance of measurable harm to some of our students from marginalized communities, we could accidentally undermine our own goals with this project,” Zander said. “We need to make sure that we don’t make a reactionary decision here. We all want our schools to feel safe … I’m a hundred percent in favor of making our schools as safe as possible and we should absolutely look into all of the options, but many of the teachers would like to prioritize solutions that don’t involve guns.”

Ninth-grader Hudson Breese spoke and shared his concerns of safety. 

“I feel lucky to live in such a wonderful place, but I don’t always feel safe,” he said. “Please vote for a campus sheriff for our school so I and many others who share my feelings can feel safe at school. Without a resource officer, if a person came on to our school campus right now and started shooting, the only thing that we could do is to ask them kindly to stop.”

Captain Seetoo acknowledged the parents’ and teachers’ comments and shared her concerns.

“I am advocating prevention. I don’t want to respond to this, I want to prevent this,” Seetoo said. “Parents, I understand where you’re coming from, I’m right there with you, so I would love to partner with everyone and come up with a solution that works for Malibu.”

Seetoo informed the group of the shortage of deputies at the Lost Hills station due to the summer and beach patrol, as well as costs and limitations involved even if deputies were available. She suggested considering the option of hiring a private security firm, and shared instance of security vendors working successfully with LASD at other school campuses.

Members of the public asked for the RPF to include mental health resources. 

Farrer said the RFP should be crafted by school administrators, parents, and LASD to help create a broader proposal. 

“I would like to see some kind of collaborative process, even in the drafting of the RFP,” Farrer said. 

Councilmember Mikke Pierson proposed to start an Ad Hoc Committee. 

Silverstein motioned to go forward with the RFP in increasing safety in schools, and Pierson seconded.

City Manager Steve McClary said the council would address the community’s request to go back to in-person meeting on the Aug. 8 meeting.

The next city council meeting is scheduled for July 11. According to the agenda, the July 25th meeting is canceled. The following meeting is scheduled for Aug. 8.

Samantha Bravo
Samantha Bravo
Samantha Bravo is an inspiring photojournalist based in Los Angeles California. She began her journalism career at Pierce College Media Arts Department. Twitter @samanthavbravo

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