Police Help El Cerrito School Improve Safety

Officer Jeff Albrandt spends much of his shift watching teenagers watch him. After all, it's not every day that city police appear on campus.

At least, it wasn't before last week.

"The first few days, kids were side-stepping me because they are accustomed to seeing El Cerrito (police) only when we're here to make an arrest," said Albrandt as he strolled down a row of portable classrooms after lunch at El Cerrito High School.

"But people are starting to relax. I really want to develop relationships with them."

Albrandt became his department's first-ever school resource officer Nov. 1 after the West Contra Costa school district agreed in principle to pay El Cerrito $100,000 for the 14-year veteran's full-time service until the end of the school year.

Schools officials view the arrangement as a temporary emergency measure at a campus plagued by public safety lapses this fall. City officials consider it more of a first step.

"For a long time we have believed that the behavior of some students at El Cerrito High School has not been acceptable by El Cerrito standards," City Manager Scott Hanin said. "We want there to be more of a baseline for ... conduct."

Many parents and residents complained after a rash of incidents this fall that included a student shooting another teen in the face with a pellet gun on the first day of class and police arresting a boy who they say brought a handgun into a classroom last month.

The district promised to tighten security after those crimes with more security guards and metal-detector sweeps on campus. Albrandt will supplement nonsworn security guards and an officer from the district's in-house police department who patrols all of the campuses in the area.

"It makes a tremendous difference," said El Cerrito High Principal Vince Rhea. "We're looking at our whole safety program ... this is a big step that will contribute to the positive environment."

Municipal police officers work or will soon begin working at least part-time at all of the district's other high schools, funded by federal grants, local taxes or partial support from the district, said assistant superintendent Vince Kilmartin.

The district does not plan to continue the contract with city police beyond the school year, he added. It needs the help now while it fills vacancies in its own safety department.

El Cerrito police have never before provided the service but would like to make it a fixture, said Chief Scott Kirkland.

"Our desired result is a long-term solution for the city," Kirkland said. "It is my hope ... that eventually there will be two (city) officers. I believe that will be necessary to provide full-time coverage of not only El Cerrito High School, but also Portola Middle School and other schools in El Cerrito as well."

Concern about the quality of the district's own security also motivated the city, Kirkland said. City police departments in West County have long called for the district to either dissolve or more heavily invest in its police department because of its consistent poor performance.

The West Contra Costa Police Chiefs Association, which has long held that most district officers lack the professional training to have full police officer powers under state law, has instructed the district to report all serious crimes to city police for investigation.

It angered investigators that El Cerrito police did not immediately hear about the pellet-gun shooting from the school.

The school board in August rejected a contract proposal from the Contra Costa Sheriff's Office that would have left security at all of its campuses to the county's largest law enforcement agency.

The district instead chose to invest $4 million this year to expand the in-house department.

Contra Costa Times

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