DEL MAR — After spending more than two hours addressing the pros and cons of forming a standalone police department or maintaining a contract with the county Sheriff’s Department, council members at the April 3 meeting opted to hold another workshop to “digest” the information provided by staff.
Del Mar has contracted with the county for law enforcement services since it became a city in 1959. About four years ago the city asked the advisory 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 from the Sheriff’s Department, which also contracts with Solana Beach and Encinitas.
Specifically, residents said they were dissatisfied with response times to low-priority calls and the frequent turnover of sheriff staff. They also had concerns about a lack of law enforcement presence.
Studies focused on those issues have been conducted, including four by a consulting firm hired by the city in 2013 and one by city staff. Participants included retired and current police chiefs and other law enforcement officers and city managers from San Diego and other cities comparable in size to Del Mar.
“We’ve definitely explored, from a profession standpoint, as many options as we could put together,” said City Manager Scott Huth, who presented the results, conclusions and recommendations April 3.
If the city were to create its own police department, the result would be shorter response times and a greater, more consistent law enforcement presence, Huth said.
According to data from the Sheriff’s Department, in the past three years about 40 percent of the time deputies assigned to Del Mar responded to calls outside the city. On average about 18 percent of the time deputies from other areas came into Del Mar to respond to calls there.
“When you net that out … roughly 21 or 29 percent of the time we’re providing more service to other communities on our dollar than what’s coming into Del Mar,” Huth said.
He also noted the Encinitas-based station has had four captains in five years and high turnover among its deputies. Huth said that is part of the department’s model.
“The sheriff is trying to get people trained … to move up in their own organization,” he said. “Part of their strategy is to rotate their commands.
“It works well for the sheriff to give them that training because it develops them,” he added. “That’s a challenge … because we’re trying to have continuity.”
The projected annual cost for a standalone police department is approximately $2.3 million, or about $365,000 less than 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.
It would take between five and eight years for the city to recover those costs, depending on whether a station is housed at City Hall or another off-site location.
Future cost uncertainties include pension obligations, liability and risk.
The city is also looking at augmenting the current services by adding deputies or unarmed, nonsworn community services officers or expanding the ranger program but they don’t fully address all concerns raised by residents.
Councilman Dave Druker, who campaigned for the November election opposing a standalone department, emailed residents before the meeting reiterating his reasons.
He cited a 30 percent increase in city staff, a need to build a station, which would impact nearby residents and require a holding cell, and third-party union involvement in politics.
He also stated residents “would be subject to increased ticketing for traffic violations,” council would spend more time on law enforcement issues and city management would seek raises, which would increase pension costs.
Finally, he wrote, “There is no guarantee that Del Mar will be safer or response times will decrease.”
He asked recipients who agree with his points to email their support of his position to the city clerk. About 110 emails were received, with only two opposed.
About a half dozen people spoke at the meeting, including Greg Glassman, who owns Zel’s Del Mar.
“In eight years of running a business … closing late at night, handling money, handling people that are drinking or enjoying our city, we’ve had no, zero, no issues to speak of,” he said. “And the few times that we’ve needed any kind of help we’ve gotten it quickly.
“I just think the resources … and energy could be spent better spent in other places,” Glassman added.
Laura DeMarco said the proposal “does not make economic sense” because of pension liability, an area in which she has much experience.
Other speakers, however, support the idea of a Del Mar police department, including Robin Crabtree.
She said Druker’s email contains ‘some misinformation” and many of the respondents supporting his position don’t live near the beach, as she does.
“The residents in the beach community need help,” Crabtree said. “All visitors and residents … deserve a safe and secure environment.”
She asked council to schedule community workshops “so that all Del Mar residents have a chance to look at all the facts and to clarify all the misinformation that seems to be spreading through rumors.”
“The status quo is unacceptable,” she added.
Glenn Sherman, a Finance Committee member who worked on the law enforcement options plan, addressed some of the points Druker made.
He said the park ranger program is limited in its ability to expand because the officer generally only has jurisdiction over activity at parks and beaches.
Additionally, there is no guarantee the city would have the same community service officer on a regular basis. He also noted the ranger uses City Hall as a base so there is already a law enforcement presence there.
He said council would likely spend less time on law enforcement with its own chief and visitors, not residents, disobey traffic laws more often.
“City management will be seeking raises?” Sherman said. “Don’t they always do that?”
He also said Druker’s claim that there is no guarantee the city will be safer is just one man’s opinion.
Jim Benedict, also a Finance Committee member, said if he received Druker’s email he would have been among the more than 100 residents who support the position.
The problem, Benedict said, is that all his points “were either twists of the truth or absolutely not the truth.” He urged council members to hold a community forum “so we can get to the truth of this issue.”
“Twenty-five percent of the time our city’s running naked,” he said. “I hope all 100 of those people that said they didn’t like this idea because of the misrepresentation will come to the forum and ask really tough questions,” he added.
But Ira Sharp said Del Mar is a safe city and after discussing the issue during seven council meetings and more than 40 other committee and subcommittee meetings, “enough is enough.”
“I think it’s been well-debated and people understand the issues,” Sharp said. “I think you should not prolong the agony. Let’s end it tonight.”
Druker was the only council member who shared that opinion.
“There’s been way too much effort put into this to just put it on the shelf today,” Councilwoman Ellie Haviland said. “There is no way we can say, after being given this thorough analysis, that we were able to digest it in one council meeting and come to a conclusion.”
Mayor Terry Sinnott took issue with Druker’s email.
“It seems to me, from my perspective, that you are throwing up every possible suggestion, idea, thought out of the blue to try to stop this effort from going forward,” Sinnott said. “I really didn’t appreciate the fact that … before the community had any chance to absorb this information, you sent out (an) email … and got everybody excited, agitated and enflamed when we haven’t even had a chance to discuss it.”
“We’ve been discussing this for the last four years,” Druker said. “I’ve not been happy at all with the way this has progressed because I understand what the people of Del Mar want, which is they don’t want a police department.
“We just had an election,” he added. “There were three people that were on the ballot that said we should have a police department. Not one of them is sitting on this dais tonight.”
“I respect Dave’s right,” Councilman Dwight Worden said. “He’s advocating his position.
“I don’t have a problem with that even though it’s not how I would have done it,” he added. “But what I do have a problem with is, I wish I had your confidence, Dave, that I knew what the pulse of the community was.”
Council members ultimately voted unanimously to hold a workshop “to further explore” what was presented and allow for additional public input.