DEL MAR — Most council members agree they need to make a decision, perhaps this fall, on whether to move forward with a proposal to create a standalone police department.
“I think we owe the community a decision,” Councilwoman Ellie Haviland said.
They came to that conclusion at the July 10 meeting after a four-hour question-and-answer workshop featuring a panel of law enforcement officers, including Del Mar’s park ranger.
Because it was approaching 10 p.m., and nearly six hours after the meeting started, they didn’t decide how much more data is needed to make a decision, what mechanism to use to gauge community support and what the next steps should be.
They voted 4-0-1 to continue the discussion at an Aug. 8 meeting to determine the latter.
Councilman Dave Druker abstained because his mind is made up.
He said based on input he received while knocking on doors during his election campaign this past fall, conversations with residents and emails to the city it’s clear most residents oppose the idea.
“The community has twice now weighed in and told us not to look at this,” Druker said before making a motion to direct the Finance Committee, which presented the proposal, to “stand down and not work on this any longer” and revisit it in the future.
No one seconded his motion.
Councilman Dwight Worden said he and his colleagues are “90 percent to the finish line,” but he didn’t want to “jump the gun.”
“I want some additional opportunity … for the community to weigh in,” he said, noting that while the city may have received several emails, they weren’t necessarily representative of the entire city.
He suggested conducting a survey, which he offered to pay for after Druker said there is no money budgeted for one.
“Why do you not want to take the pulse of the community?” Worden asked Druker.
“I have,” Druker said. “I’ve done my survey three times now and each time that survey’s come back and said to me, ‘Don’t do your own police department.’
“Having our own police department is a big sink hole,” he added.
Del Mar has contracted with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department for law enforcement services since it became a city in 1959. About four years ago council members asked the Finance Committee to look into law enforcement options as a way to possibly save money.
As that effort progressed, concerns were expressed about the level of service the city was receiving.
Although not unhappy with the Sheriff’s Department, they were dissatisfied with the lack of patrol presence, frequent staff turnover — four captains in five years — and response times to low-priority calls.
Studies conducted by consultants and city staff determined a Del Mar police department is feasible.
The projected annual cost for a standalone department is approximately $2.3 million, about what the city is currently paying for its sheriff’s contract. The start-up costs are estimated to be between $2.1 million to $3.5 million.
The city previously presented information during council meetings. New information from the workshop includes the following.
• Officers respond to about 4.5 calls a day in Del Mar — 3.8 if Del Mar Fairgrounds-related calls are excluded. The majority are for burglar alarms or traffic stops.
• Most calls require a two-deputy response.
• With its own department, the city would still receive county services such as SWAT, aerial support, the crime lab, bomb and arson.
• Finding officers willing to make a lateral move to Del Mar would be the ideal recruiting method. Hiring the right chief is key to retaining them.
• Facility options for about four or five employees include building a standalone or modular structure on city land, housing it at City Hall or leasing an existing building.
• Lights and sirens coming in and out of any facility are possible but would be infrequent because of the limited number of calls per day.
• The Department of Justice does not recommend holding cells for small departments but an interview room would be required.
• Pension costs would be similar to what the city is paying now.
• If Del Mar decided to simply augment its existing contract, two extra patrol officers and a community service officer should be enough to provide the service residents want.
• Dispatch would likely be outsourced.
• The greatest risk is liability insurance.
Prior to the workshop the city received about 45 emails, 36 of which were from residents who did not support creating a police department. The others were comments, questions and concerns and not necessarily in support of the proposal.
Bill Michalsky summed up many of the concerns when he spoke during public comment.
“It just seems understaffed,” he said. “Just trying to get the personnel, there’s no guarantee you’re going to hire all these people.
“I think the costs are going to surprise us,” he added. “I don’t believe we’ve captured the costs. … We want more but when I hear how complicated it might be to get more personal service I’m liking the sheriffs even more and more.
“As encouraged as I was wanting a police department some months back I’m more discouraged,” he said. “Just augment what we have. I think that would be in our best interest.”