In an effort to make schools safer, the City Council this week approved an ordinance giving police authority to arrest non-students on campus during school hours.
Police Chief Elvin Miali said the old law had a loophole that required school administrators to ask individuals who don't belong on campus to leave before any arrest could be made. After being asked to leave school grounds, individuals faced arrest if they returned within seven days.
Miali said the need to strengthen the law and prevent trespassing on school grounds arose because of some violence on campuses, most of it attributed to gang activity. He said some schools have experienced non-student gang members going to schools to create a disturbance.
"We feel it's our responsibility to provide a safe environment," Miali said.
Fountain Valley High School Principal Gary Ernst praised the new ordinance, saying: "All the major problems in the last two years have been a result of non-students coming onto campus."
At the start of last school year, a student at Fountain Valley High was stabbed by an individual who did not attend the school. Ernst said the suspect, who was later arrested, had been warned to stay away from the campus.
Ernst said that it's an ongoing worry that non-students will come onto school grounds and cause problems.
"But this new law puts teeth in the trespassing law where we can keep trespassers away," he said.
George Willson, principal of Los Amigos High School, also said the ordinance "should be a plus."
"It's highly unusual to call the police on a trespassing issue, but when you need that kind of backup, it's kind of nice to be able to get it," he said.
Under the new law, Miali said, individuals on campus without permission either one hour before school or an hour after school can be immediately arrested. The offense is a misdemeanor, and offenders can be fined up to $1,000, Miali said.
The new law, which applies to elementary, middle and high schools within the city, is scheduled for final council approval Oct. 5.
The law is expected to go into effect by November, Miali said.