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Laguna Beach

 Volume 12, Issue 55  |  July 10, 2020


First LBPD all-female Business Liaison Unit hits the downtown streets with a positive vibe 

Story by DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

A few weeks ago, just in time for the summer crowds, the phased reopening of businesses, and the debut of Promenade on Forest, a new all-female Business Liaison Unit (BLU) hit the downtown area. 

From 3 p.m. until 5 a.m. Thursday through Saturday nights, the BLU team monitors businesses, assists with COVID-19 requirements, and communicates with visitors and locals who frequent the downtown establishments. When the bars are open, they make their presence known. 

First LBPD duo

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Officer Liz Gutierrez (left) and Officer Britnie Priest on Forest Promenade

Granted, it sounds like a big job, but lest you expect an entire team, the BLU is a duo – Officer Britnie Priest and Officer Liz Gutierrez, who both graduated from the Golden West College’s Basic Police Academy. Gutierrez was in the 2018 Basic Police Academy Class 157, and Priest graduated in 2019 in the BPAC 159. There’s no doubt this particular duo can get the job done.

Sgt. Jim Cota, who oversees the ongoing program, says, “This is the first time there has been an all-female team. We knew them both and supported them during the hiring process. They work well together and make a great team. We couldn’t have two better police officers service the downtown community than these two.”

Already, in a short period of time, they have established relationships with all the local businesses. Not everything they do involves crime. 

“With the reopening of businesses, we’re trying to educate them on compliance and give people peace of mind. Not everyone is easy to get on board, but we are making progress,” says Gutierrez. 

Both Priest and Gutierrez see their biggest challenge as trying to find the new normal after COVID-19.

The BLU team is a one-year rotation, and although Sgt. Cota oversees the program, their immediate supervisors during the weekend are Sgt. Beckie White and Sgt. Darrel Short.

First LBPD restaurant

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Promenade restaurants have been busy. Catherine Rinehart (on right) from Alessa by Chef Pirozzi says, “Every night has been like a weekend.” 

Sgt. Cota says, “Both Britnie and Liz have terrific community presence. They are very approachable. They are well known in the agency. They will be faces for the community, handle calls for service, and serve the public needs. Don’t let their appearance fool you, they are very good at their jobs.” 

The Golden West College’s Basic Police Academy Class is a rigorous and high intensity 24-week program.

“These two have paid their dues. There is a lot of talk about what it takes to be a police officer these days. Some communities question that non-educated, non-certified officers are getting hired and that is who is protecting their communities. LBPD prides itself on the education of its officers and the ongoing process of training in different areas with no exceptions. These two are well-educated,” says Sgt. Cota.

Priest earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Kinesiology and Exercise Science at Concordia University and her Master of Arts in Athletic Training at Texas Tech.

After graduating from Cypress College with an Associate of Arts degree, Gutierrez went to Newberry College in South Carolina on a soccer scholarship and received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and Criminal Justice.

First LBPD Gary

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A fan of the LBPD, third-generation Laguna resident Gary Stenny talks with Priest and Gutierrez

Both Priest and Gutierrez were part of the LBPD family before becoming police officers – Priest served as a jailer for four months and Gutierrez was a police cadet assigned to the Investigations division.

“This is an opportunity to really get to know the community members,” says Priest. “I joined a family with the LBPD and now the whole community is family.” 

Gutierrez agrees, “This is a chance to get to know the businesses, visitors, and residents. Creating a relationship with locals and visitors will help us in the long run.”

Even though they are assigned to the downtown space, the BLU isn’t tied to just the downtown area, they have free rein to assist businesses throughout the city.

Sgt. Cota continues to compliment both team members. “They will be a positive influence. It was an easy choice for the command staff. We already knew who they were, their work ethic, and they fit the perfect mold for downtown for multiple reasons – one being community knowledge. They can see who’s new in the city. Their input will be key because of what they see. If something needs to be changed or something can be made better in the downtown area, we will take to heart what they suggest.”

First LBPD walking away

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Officers Priest and Gutierrez walk the Promenade with Sgt. Jason Farris (far left) and Sgt. Cota (second from right) 

What are Officers Priest and Gutierrez’ goals, during and after their BLU rotation? 

Gutierrez comes from a family in law enforcement – her father is a police officer. She says, “I want to get better as a street cop and learn as much as I can. After two to three years, I’m hoping to put in for detective and become one of the best. My long-term goal is to work in the District Attorney’s Office.”

Priest’s goal is to be a field training officer. “I love teaching – I was an athletic trainer – and I liked watching the students’ growth and development.” 

With all this expertise, training, and ability to successfully handle any situation, Priest and Gutierrez say a question they are most frequently asked is, “Where is the best place to eat?”

So, if you’re strolling the Promenade on Forest Ave or other downtown streets and spot Officer Priest and Officer Gutierrez, stop and say, “Hello” and thank them for helping our community during the COVID-19 pandemic – and much more.

Both officers can be reached via their email addresses: 

Officer B. Priest: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Officer L. Gutierrez: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The non-emergency LBPD line is (949) 497-0701.

 

Shaena Stabler is the Owner, Publisher & Editor.

Dianne Russell is our Associate Editor & Writer.

Michael Sterling is our Webmaster & Designer.

Mary Hurlbut is our Chief Photographer.

Alexis Amaradio, Barbara Diamond, Dennis McTighe, Diane Armitage, Marrie Stone, Maggi Henrikson, Samantha Washer, and Suzie Harrison are our writers and/or columnists. Scott Brashier is our photographer.

Stacia Stabler is our Social Media Manager & Writer.

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