DEL MAR – Plans to create a small police department that would augment current law enforcement services were shot down by the Sheriff’s Department, Mayor Al Corti reported at the April 20 meeting.
“The sheriff feels that that’s not something that they could work with and pretty much shut the door on that as a workable option,” he said.
About four years ago a finance subcommittee was formed to find ways to reduce the cost of law enforcement, which has been provided by the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department since Del Mar became a city in 1959.
The current annual contract costs approximately $1.8 million and is expected to increase about $100,000 each year, Jim Benedict, a subcommittee member, said.
As the panel worked to cut law enforcement costs, they discovered some dissatisfaction with existing services and response times for low priority calls.
One option the city considered a few years ago was creating its own police department but the cost – an additional $250,000 per year plus $1 million for the startup — was prohibitive.
According to the subcommittee, a small department would cost approximately $575,000 annually, plus about $100,000 in start-up costs, and it could save the city more than $300,000 a year.
Creating a minidepartment, which is required to allow for enforcement, could increase the visibility of officers and improve response times.
It would include a required chief, one to two certified peace officers and one or two community service officers.
Earlier this year council members agreed to pursue that idea, but only if the Sheriff’s Department was willing to work under such an arrangement.
Corti and Councilman Terry Sinnott recently met with members of the Sheriff’s Department to discuss the alternative.
“The option of the minidepartment did not go well with the Sheriff’s Department from their first analysis,” Corti said.
Their decision was based on operational and safety concerns, he added.
“We asked them to put those reasons in writing so that we can actually digest it,” Corti said.
“I think the key issue is we were asking them to dispatch our people and that was something they didn’t want to do,” Sinnott said, adding that the sheriff “was very agreeable to working on expanding” the existing contract.
“They’re very open to trying to work to improve service,” he said. “The question is what it’s going to cost.”
“I think their analysis of what they would do as a service provider to meet some of our needs is going to be beneficial for us to evaluate,” City Manager Scott Huth said.
Although sheriffs didn’t support the notion of a minidepartment, council members haven’t completely given up on the idea.
“We think it can be done,” Corti said, noting that a similar system is used at universities and with the city’s ranger program. “If they’re not armed our own city employees are an option.”
“So there is a potential of changing that dispatching issue where we have a very small department that still responds to our priority three and four calls, maybe do some traffic enforcement, but we’ve got to figure that out,” Sinnott said. “We’re regrouping.”
Priority three calls include driving under the influence, accidents with minor injuries, hit-and-run with property damage, an escaped prisoner, arson and child stealing. Prowlers, assault, indecent exposure, vandalism, trespassing and audible and silent alarms constitute priority four calls.
Corti said the subcommittee plans to discuss other options, including the costs and benefits of forming a city police department with input from the sheriffs, expanding the existing contract and hiring a private security firm to augment service, a system currently used in Rancho Santa Fe.