Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station Capt. Justin Diez pledged to keep the school resource deputy program going Tuesday during a discussion with parents of junior high and high school students meant to share information and receive community input.
In a phone interview Wednesday he said he wasn’t referring to a department-wide policy decision, which he couldn’t make; however, as long as the program was available at the station level, he was committed to fully staffing the group.
Considering the group “his most important special team” at the station, Diez was looking to respond to speculation that had arisen in response to the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department’s Civilian Oversight Committee holding a series of forums looking at reevaluating the program, which some program supporters saw as an existential threat to it.
Some communities, including in the neighboring Antelope Valley, have formed community groups seeking to “Cancel the Contract” with LASD for their cities and schools. Diez said that hasn’t been his experience at all in the SCV.
Diez was one of the speakers who addressed the parents before group discussions began at parents’ respective tables. The speakers answered questions from the crowd on a variety of topics, and Diez said the station is staffed at around 70% at the moment with about 260 deputies, many of whom work dozens of hours of overtime a week to make sure the SCV has around-the-clock law enforcement.
“The reason I bring that up is I have to make very difficult decisions on what units to curtail, how to move around people,” Diez said, describing the process of staffing under such conditions as well as managing promotions and transfers as a “constant shell game.”
“The one thing I want this group to know … is that we will always staff this SRD program,” he said to applause, adding it was an easy decision in this community because of the support it has for the station.
“I feel that that is our most important special team at this station of all of our teams, simply because security in the schools is so near and dear to my heart,” he added. “That will not change as long as I’m here, and I’m sure that will continue long past me, but as long as I’m here, you’ll have that commitment for those seven deputies and a sergeant.”
Each school resource deputy currently rotates around multiple campuses that they’re assigned to, Diez added.
Santa Clarita officials, who provide $1 million of the funding for the school resource deputy program for the William S. Hart Union High School District, reaffirmed their support for the program as well Wednesday.
“The safety and well-being of our community has and always will be a top priority for the City of Santa Clarita,” said Santa Clarita Mayor Jason Gibbs. “As a contract City, Santa Clarita regularly budgets approximately $1 million each year for the School Resource Deputy program through the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. The City will continue to work with our partners at the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station to ensure the safety of our students.”
The event also included a presentation from Kathy Hunter, assistant superintendent of student services, safety and wellness, who provided an update on some recent campus efforts, such as canine-detection services that were renewed for a second year this year.
Hart district Superintendent Mike Kuhlman said Tuesday the idea for the dogs sprang from conversations with parents at last year’s school safety discussion.
The groups were then asked to talk about site security, communication, health and wellness as well as policy and training, and look at the district’s strengths and weaknesses in each of those areas. The groups were also then asked to talk about ideas for reducing the impact of gangs in the SCV.
Some of the strengths mentioned in the group discussion were the district’s policies around site security and gains the district’s respective campuses have made in social-emotional learning, through various campus centers that provide safe spaces and anti-bullying clubs.
That also was cited as somewhat of a challenge, though, as during the discussion between staff and parents, it came up that at more than one campus the spaces are becoming so popular students are having a harder time getting in there some days.
Bathroom safety was another issue brought up, with more than one parent saying their children don’t always feel safe in the bathrooms because of reports of crowded conditions and students congregating when they’re not supposed to be.
Brandi Davis, assistant principal at Placerita Junior High School, said she regularly walks through areas such as the girls’ locker rooms just to make sure the students know there’s an adult around.
Diez also answered questions about cyberbullying, saying sometimes it could be a law enforcement issue if someone is being physically threatened or in danger, but usually it’s a matter more appropriately handled by the campus community due to the nature of the contact.
One parent asked about xylazine, a drug the DEA recently issued an alert on because it’s being cut with another much more widespread local problem, fentanyl.
Diez said he has not seen local reports of xylazine, also known as “Tranq,” a powerful sedative the FDA has approved for veterinary use. Because Tranq is not an opioid, the opioid overdose-reversal medicine naloxone doesn’t work on it, making a poisoning from the drug much more lethal, according to officials.
Kuhlman said the discussion would be part of the district’s next governing board meeting on Sept. 13 with a presentation by Hunter.
“The Hart district schedules bi-annual safety updates with the governing board (fall and spring) which are then uploaded onto the safety page on the district website,” Kuhlman wrote in an email Wednesday.
The information is also available for parents at www.hartdistrict.org/apps/pages/school-safety.