Citing its large, difficult-to-secure exurban campuses and slow law enforcement response times, the City of Malibu is considering new plans to potentially add armed security guards to its four public school campuses for the first time.

Funding for the program would most likely come from the City’s budget, although at least one Malibu councilmember insisted the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) should foot the bill for any private security guards, LA County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) contracts, support services and/or enhanced physical security on the campuses of Malibu Elementary, Webster Elementary, Malibu Middle and Malibu High schools.

“We should demand that the School District fund this — demand it, not just request them and take their answer, ‘No’ — demand it, and if necessary, consider legal action to require it because it is their responsibility to keep our school students safe,” Mayor Pro Tem Bruce Silverstein said during the hearing on Monday, June 27. 

When reached on Tuesday, SMMUSD administration expressed support for the plan, but stated that, at least initially, it would be funded by the City of Malibu. There was no estimate for the potential cost of the program. 

“We are thrilled to be working collaboratively with LASD under the direction of [Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station] Captain [Jennifer] Seetoo, City of Malibu, and other Malibu community partners to enhance security measures and responsiveness around our four Malibu schools as a pilot project,” a statement attributed to SMMUSD Superintendent Ben Drati said Tuesday. “We appreciate this joint effort to improve patrolling, response time and intervention in emergencies or threats to our campuses and thank Malibu City Council for the initial funding for this pilot.”

Unlike schools within the City of Santa Monica, which are served by the Santa Monica Police Department, Malibu schools fall under the service area of the LASD, and are located miles away from the closest sheriff’s station one city over in Agoura Hills. Malibu City Council members said concerns over safety on campuses have been simmering for years, although no one cited any examples of security breaches or violence on campuses due to the perceived lack of security.

“This has been the elephant in the room in Malibu since I attended school here,” Councilmember Mikke Pierson — whose own children have since graduated from Malibu schools — said at one point during the meeting. “I’m really thinking this is the moment we take another step. I think that’s pretty obvious. I don’t think anyone’s opposed to actually doing something here.”

The current push for enhanced security followed the latest deadly mass shooting on a school campus, which occurred in Uvalde, Texas, in May, when an armed gunman murdered 21 people in an elementary school.

During the Monday Malibu City Council meeting, council members there placed two separate items on the agenda to explore ways to enhance security at the four school campuses. In the end, the five-member council voted unanimously to send out two requests for proposals (RFPs): one for private security services and another for consulting services to explore ways to enhance security with or without armed guards. They also approved an ad hoc council committee to give input and conduct further research.

The idea for armed private security came out of a community meeting held earlier in June, according to Council Member Karen Farrer, who said she consulted with local stakeholders including Seetoo, who said that while sheriff’s deputies would be too costly, private security would be a good alternative.

Silverstein, the councilmember who suggested hiring a consultant to explore possibilities outside security guards, said he was concerned that following LASD suggestions for security might be closing off the City to potential solutions that did not involve guards.

“There’s a saying: When you’re a hammer, every problem is a nail,” Silverstein said. “And it’s unsurprising to me that the Sheriff’s Department’s initial reaction and recommendation would be private law enforcement — ‘we can’t do it, but law enforcement’s the right answer’ — because the Sheriff’s Department is law enforcement. That’s what they know.”

Some members who spoke during the meeting on Monday expressed strong support for armed security guards. Among those who called in to the hearing were also a number of teachers who expressed concerns about the presence of armed officers or guards on school grounds.

“There have been armed officers at several of our country’s worst school shootings, including Uvalde and Parkland [the 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Fla., at which 17 people were murdered]. Their presence didn’t deter the shooter from coming to campus. They didn’t intervene with the shooter once they were on campus and they didn’t save anybody,” Malibu High School teacher Maia Zander said at the hearing. “So, how do we know that this will be different at our school? The second question is: Are we just trying to make people feel safer if we’re not sure this will actually make us safer? And 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.”

Parent Ethan White spoke at the meeting representing the Boys & Girls Club of Malibu (BGCM), a well-funded institution that has a presence on every school campus in the city. According to White, BGCM recently underwent a three-month safety audit from the National Boys & Girls Club of America, and was told campuses were “doing everything great.” The one lingering concern, White said, was with law enforcement response times in the sparsely populated community.

White added that the BGCM offered a “full service wellness center that provides mental health, counseling and mental health services free of charge to support to all the schools and all the school staff, anybody who wants it really in the community.” 

White said he would support the City’s work to explore enhanced security, including the possibility of armed security, and volunteered to help draw up the RFPs.

The RFPs, which could go out as early as next week, will give a timeline of 45 days for responses, in the hopes of moving forward with plans for increased security by the start of the 2022-23 school year in August.

emily@smdp.com