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City responds to law enforcement recommendations

DEL MAR — It’s been about two months since City Council received a report evaluating its law enforcement services. Since then, city officials have been working with the Sheriff’s Department to address 11 recommendations included in the report.

Council received an update at the Jan. 21 meeting.

Four of the suggestions, which were based on limited information gathered by the consultants who prepared the report, dealt with staffing.

Capt. Robert Haley said decreasing the assigned detective to half time would not be adequate for Del Mar. The city could only contract for a half detective if another city, such as Solana Beach or Encinitas, was willing to share the position. Both are unable to do so at this time, according to the staff report.

However, Del Mar plans to analyze workload data to see if there is a way to better use the detective. One example might be to find another person to review red-light camera tickets.

Another recommendation was to encourage the Sheriff’s Department to assign experienced deputies in Del Mar.

“More important than that is getting the right sheriff who understands the community regardless of their tenure,” City Manager Scott Huth said.

City staff reviewed the report after it was presented to council and reassessed the existing services.

“We’ve concluded that we are indeed well-equipped with safety resources in this city when you consider the sheriff’s contract, the park ranger, lifeguards, our Fire Department and our code enforcement staff,” Mark Delin, assistant city manager, said.

“We also concluded that we need to do a better job in coordinating our safety departments and our personnel so they function as one team and provide the highest possible level of service,” he added.

“We need to integrate the Sheriff’s Department into our services just like it was another city department,” Huth said. “How we treat the Sheriff’s Department is going to go a long way to getting them integrated into the community. If we have the Sheriff’s Department treated just like our other departments more of those sheriffs are going to feel like they have ownership in the community.

“We really have kept the Sheriff’s Department, in my opinion, at arm’s distance and I think that (has) not served us well,” he added.

Haley agreed his department can improve its visibility and connectivity with the city. He also said he has made some adjustments to improve service, including assigning the traffic deputy during the busiest days and times.

He noted that the turnover in personnel “causes consternation.”

“We try to be consistent with who we have in Del Mar to maintain that relationship with the community,” he said. But with new officers consistently being sworn in, there is always significant movement in the department. “It just comes with the territory,” he said.

Haley said he is also working to simplify the classifications for calls to better explain response times.

Jim Benedict, a member of the Finance Committee that was tasked with researching law enforcement options, said the Sheriff’s Department “has really stepped up” since the report was presented.

But he said there is still a disconnect between the department and the park ranger that needs to be addressed. He also said the committee is continuing its research into the city forming its own police department.

“We’re not optimistic that we can solve this (problem with the Sheriff’s Department),” he said. “I hope that we can but if we can’t we need a fallback.”

Barry Entous, also a Finance Committee member, said he has seen in increase in the presence of law enforcement, but the responses to many of the recommendations are “still a lot of talk.”

“My only concern is … how do we ensure what we’re paying for in the Sheriff’s Department is actually being accounted for,” he said. “I want to be able to see time sheets, time reports” for the deputy, detective and traffic officer.

“I want to make sure what the city is paying for is what we’re getting,” he said.

Council members agree improvements can be made but some did not put all the blame on the Sheriff’s Department.

“If people in Del Mar are dissatisfied with the level of service they need to step up and be part of the solution,” Councilman Don Mosier said. He suggested volunteering for the senior patrol. Currently only one resident is slated to join that group.

“We’ve got a habit in this city of not calling our sheriffs,” Mayor Lee Haydu said. “We call all the (other) departments. … We do call (Community Services Director) Pat Vergne. He’s not a sheriff. We blame our sheriffs for things, but if they don’t know it how can they be more proactive.”

A recent example, she said, was a concern about people selling magazine subscriptions.

“We were never notified,” Haley said, noting that the vendors could simply be violating a city code by not being properly licensed.

“(But) not all those people are here to sell magazine subscriptions,” he said, adding that they may be casing the area looking for homes, business or cars to break into.

Del Mar has contracted with the Sheriff’s Department for police services since its inception in 1959. The current cost is about $1.7 million a year.