DEL MAR — In an effort to find a compromise that will result in, among other things, better response times and more focus on community concerns, council members Terry Sinnott and Ellie Haviland plan to meet with representatives from the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.
Del Mar has contracted with the Sheriff’s Department for law enforcement services since it became a city in 1959. Several years ago council members asked the Finance Committee to look into police 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, residents indicated 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 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.
Del Mar officials at one point talked to the Sheriff’s Department about possibly hiring its own community service officers, or CSOs, who would be stationed only in the city and augment existing services.
Sheriff’s representatives a few years ago said such an arrangement wouldn’t work because of dispatch, operational and safety concerns.
But during a July workshop to discuss a report on law enforcement options, Sheriff’s Department representatives indicated that they would be receptive to a discussion on their service model to see if they could provide some solutions to meet Del Mar’s needs.
Sinnott has since put together a list of goals and discussion items for a meeting, which his colleagues reviewed Dec. 18.
It included negotiating for five- to eight-minute response times, community policing, proactive neighborhood patrols, assigning deputies to geographical areas in the city and officers who remain in Del Mar except when needed for serious emergencies in other cities.
Councilman Dave Druker, who has consistently opposed the formation of a Del Mar police department, saw the list differently.
“I find these goals to be a back-ended way to create our own police department,” he said. “The sheriff is not going to be able to meet these goals, and therefore we’re going to be put into the position where … the only way we can meet these goals is to create our own police department.
“What I’d rather have you do right now is go out and figure out if there’s a way that we can have some more coverage by the sheriff,” Druker added. “More importantly, right now there are some very specific things that need to be done around 15th Street during the weekend nights. There needs to be better patrolling during the summer months on the beach and we need to figure that out … as quickly as possible rather than trying to negotiate with the sheriff to see if they can do exactly what somebody would want with our own police department.”
“The intent was not to try to force council into one position or another on creating our own police department,” Haviland said. “What we’re trying to find out … are the things that you think our current service is lacking in and what … you want us to try to negotiate with the sheriff and find out what they are open to to enhance our service in ways that we feel it needs to be enhanced.”
“This is not an attempt to sell any particular proposal,” Sinnott added. “I want to improve public safety. … We need people to be patrolling.”
“My highest priority is getting police here in town, like on 15th, and at the beach when people are having trouble,” Councilwoman Sherryl Parks said. “I’m not nuts about having a lot of policemen driving around my neighborhood.
“It isn’t really necessary,” she added. “I think that that would be a waste of resources.”
Mayor Dwight Worden said the city has been evaluating two options — staying with the sheriff or setting up its own department.
“The logical option is in the middle, is to stay with the sheriff, supplement it with community service officers and provide those needs … that are really of value to us efficiently without giving up what’s good about the sheriff,” he said.
“The stumbling block has been the sheriff’s unwillingness to do that — unwilling to dispatch people in the CSO position who work for us and not coordinate with us,” he added. “So they kind of forced us away, in my mind at least, from the most logical, most cost-effective model. … Now the door is slightly open.”
Worden asked Sinnott and Haviland to find out how far Sheriff’s Department is willing to go when it comes to CSOs. Can the city hire its own, who will be co-dispatched? Could CSOs be permanently and exclusively assigned to Del Mar?
To what extent would Del Mar have control over their assignments? How much will it all cost?
“I want the best deal I can with each one,” Worden said. “Do we have new option between divorce and status quo?”
CSOs usually handle low- to medium-priority calls that do not require an armed police officer with arrest powers. They can handle traffic and issue civil infraction citations.