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Officer Priscilla Angeloni: a rising star on an elite force

Story by MARRIE STONE

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Driving to work each day – or, more often, night – Laguna Beach Police Officer Priscilla Angeloni never knows what’s in store. On an otherwise quiet Sunday afternoon last February, for example, she responded to a call on a secluded cove near Emerald Bay. One of Laguna’s frequent offenders was intoxicated and scaling the stony cliffs. He threw rocks at local lifeguards who tried to assist him.

By the time Officer Angeloni arrived, the suspect had made his way to Whiskey Cove, accessible only by a rickety old staircase no longer in use. “I felt like I was in Jurassic Park,” Angeloni recalls. “Everything was overgrown, and I just kept hoping these stairs wouldn’t collapse under me.” By the time she reached the beach, the Sheriff’s Department landed a helicopter on the rocky cove and took the suspect into custody.

“He ended up falling on the rocks and was moving very slowly,” Sergeant Jim Cota told Stu News last February. “The OCSD helicopter performed a hoist extraction.” 

Angeloni was the lucky officer who accompanied the 59-year old man on his helicopter ride to Riddle Field and made the arrest. “He’s a known offender who likes to fight with law enforcement,” Angeloni says. “He likes the confrontation.”

Such is a typically unpredictable day in the life of a Laguna Beach police officer. Priscilla Angeloni handles it all in stride.

Officer Priscilla closeup

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Officer Priscilla Angeloni at work

A passion for helping children led Angeloni to the force

Angeloni was the first in her family to get a college degree, and certainly the first to obtain a dual masters and top-of-the-class accolades from the police academy. 

Born and raised in Norco, California, Angeloni was recruited out of high school on a basketball scholarship to Concordia University in Irvine where she earned a bachelor’s degree in behavioral science. During an internship at the Royal Family Kids Camp in Lake Arrowhead, Angeloni discovered her calling. The camp serves abused children in the foster care system and allows them – 

often for the first time in their young lives – to experience the pleasures of childhood and a model for healthy family life.

“That camp made me find my niche. I knew I wanted to work with kids,” Angeloni says. “But there’s little you can do without a masters.” The decision to continue her education became an easy one.

While working toward her double-masters in counseling and forensic psychology at Cal Baptist, Angeloni continued her involvement with children in the foster system. “It was more intense because now I was doing it throughout the year,” Angeloni says. “Kudos to people who do this work, because it definitely takes a toll. It takes a certain person with that [level of] will power.”

Angeloni still wanted to help kids, but realized she was focused on the wrong link in the chain. “I wanted to get the kids out [of abusive situations], rather than treating them afterwards.” She opted to take an internship with the LA Police Department while studying for her forensic psychology degree.

A standout in her class

Graduating from the police academy is every bit as difficult as it sounds. The application process alone is daunting. Candidates must demonstrate their physical fitness by completing an obstacle course, scaling a six-foot chain link fence, and dragging an adult-sized dummy. They must sprint, perform timed pushups, sit-ups, and other feats of strength. Then they undergo psychological evaluations and polygraph tests, background investigations, and medical exams. There are oral interviews conducted by a panel and written exams.

Once accepted, successful completion of the program is anything but guaranteed. Out of an original class of 30 at Golden West Police Academy, only 15 cadets graduated alongside Angeloni. Six women began, and four completed the program. 

Not only did Angeloni beat the odds, but she was the first female class president. Elected by her peers, Angeloni stood up at graduation and delivered the keynote address. 

Officer Priscilla equipment

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Graduating from the Golden West Police Academy is no small feat

Orange Police Chief Tom Kisela told the Golden West graduating class in 2017: “You will not always be appreciated to the degree you think appropriate. You will not always be respected like you deserve. You will be required to work when you’re exhausted. You will not always get the assignment or promotion when you want it. You’ll be asked to do things that are unpleasant. You’ll be forced to make hard choices. You’ll be expected to do the right thing when it’s difficult. You’ll see things that others never want to see. You’ll experience things that will break your heart. In all of this you’ll always be expected to be a better person, to keep your head up and continuously push forward and stay the course.”

Angeloni was one of the few who sought out this challenge and succeeded in accomplishing it.

The mutual admiration club

The Laguna Beach Police Department is a strong advocate for women on the force. Of a fleet of roughly 50 officers, nine are women, including Chief of Police Laura Farinella. “I’m a huge proponent of women in law enforcement,” says Sergeant Cota. Angeloni, he says, is a strong representative of women on the force. “We have several females like her,” he says, “but we use her as a lead.”

Angeloni’s strength, coupled with her caring nature, makes her an invaluable asset. “You want her in your corner,” Cota says. 

The affection stretches in both directions. Angeloni loves the intimate size of the department. “Everyone knows everyone,” she says. “In a place like the LAPD, you’d get lost in the numbers. Here, we know what’s going on in people’s lives. That was really important to me.”

When Angeloni’s father suffered a recent health issue, not only did she get the green light to immediately leave work to be with him, but she received a text message from the Captain that evening. “We’re more like a close knit family,” Angeloni says. “It makes all the difference.”

Keeping Laguna safe by keeping drunk drivers off the road

Today Angeloni focuses on keeping intoxicated – or otherwise impaired – drivers off the roads. “After working the job and seeing all the traffic-related accidents, I realized how little alcohol it takes for people to be impaired and what can happen in a split second,” Angeloni says. “I take pride in preventing that. I’ve found a different niche.” 

Officer Priscilla cars

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Officer Angeloni standing with her fleet of vehicles

Angeloni took a specialized course to become a Drug Recognition Expert. Throughout the 72 hours of classroom training, students learn how individual drugs manifest to produce specific symptoms. Most indicators are involuntary – 

pulse, pupil size, the way the eye reacts to light, and blood pressure.

Students then undergo 24 hours of field test training. They locate individuals on the street who appear to be under the influence of something. If the suspects consent to participate in the training, they can avoid arrest (or be assured the charges will be dropped). “We get to see people under the influence and diagnose them,” Angeloni says. “I’m a nerd about the science.”

Support from locals goes a long way

Angeloni also appreciates the community in which she serves. Not only does she enjoy the scenic views and vacation atmosphere, but the residents make a remarkable difference. “Everyone is pro-police here,” she says. “That is important and it’s not common.” People often take the time to smile and wave when Angeloni is parked in her car. “I feel the genuineness of those gestures. That goes a long way. I appreciate it a lot.”

Angeloni loves showing citizens the positive and soft side of law enforcement. “One thing I enjoy doing, if I pull someone over – I mean no one wants to be pulled over, they freak out – is to make their day by not giving them a ticket. I like reinforcing that positive image of a police officer.”

“Priscilla is a tremendous asset to the department,” says Cota. “She’s already a rising star. She’s gonna go places. I can already see it.”