The Coast News Group
CommunityCommunityDel Mar

Council hears update on law enforcement options

DEL MAR — As Del Mar officials seek to find the right mix of law enforcement to meet the city’s needs, they will first need to determine what their highest-priority goals are.

The city began looking into law enforcement options almost four years ago after residents voiced concerns that there was a lack of police presence in the city, the response to low-priority calls is too slow and the cost of sheriff services is too high.

Additionally, frequent turnover resulted in a lack of familiarity of the community and its small-town character.

Consultants hired in 2013 to study options that included a standalone police department provided an update at the April 18 meeting.

A variety of hybrid alternatives presented would cost between $64,000 and $121,000 annually in addition to the approximately $2 million the city pays for the Sheriff’s Department contract, which increases about $100,000 every year.

The annual cost to operate its own police department is estimated at almost $2.4 million. The start-up costs would be an additional $1.2 million, plus another $2.2 million to $3.2 million to build a station.

That would provide Del Mar with 19 officers, including a chief, a commander, four patrol sergeants, five patrol officers and a part-time detective.

The city currently contracts with the Sheriff’s Department for a total of 5.32 deputy sheriffs for 24-hour coverage. 42.5 hours for traffic enforcement and a full-time detective who splits his time between investigating crimes that occur in the city, issuing citations and managing the RedFlex red-light enforcement program.

“For a city the size of Del Mar you actually have a pretty robust enforcement situation right now,” Jim Armstrong, from Ralph Anderson and Associates, said.

Adding a full-time community service officer, or CSO, would cost $83,777 a year. The officer could get to know the community, and vice versa.

The position could be used throughout the city for a variety of municipal code violations, and designating all parking enforcement officers as CSOs would create a much greater presence in the city.

However, a CSO cannot respond to low-priority calls such as loud parties.

Hiring two part-time CSOs would save about $20,000 and provide more flexibility but could result in greater turnover.

Other options included supplementing the existing operations with hourly support or augmenting the sheriff’s contract with private security services.

The latter would cost about $90,000 annually and there would still be an inability to respond to low-priority calls.

A final option would be to enhance law enforcement operations by adding a CSO through the existing sheriff’s contract for a cost of $121,000.

Sheriff’s Department CSOs can offer many services that are currently being provided by both

deputies and the park ranger.

They could handle many low-priority calls, non-injury traffic crashes, traffic direction and municipal code violations, enforce parking and have a visible presence in the community.

The CSO couldn’t respond to low-priority calls where a suspect or violator may be present, but that situation is rare in Del Mar.

The consultants determined that if the city’s highest priority is to reduce the response time to low-priority priority calls when there is no suspect, “the only feasible alternative” is to add a new CSO to the contract with the Sheriff’s Department.

“This is the only alternative we evaluated that will meet this objective, since all of the other alternatives involve personnel that the Sheriff’s Department has confirmed that they will not dispatch to these types of calls,” the report states.

If the goal is to increase patrol visibility and a sense of safety in the community, the consulting team recommended hiring two or more part-time CSOs because it is cost effective, can be used flexibly and provides greater control to monitor performance and customer service skills.

“I think this is a major, major issue that needs and requires more community vetting,” Councilman Al Corti said.

Mayor Sherryl Parks said now may not be the right time to create a standalone department.

“We have a lot on our plate,” she said, citing the ongoing City Hall replacement project, developing the Shores property and a potential sales tax increase to fund utility pole undergrounding.

The Finance Department will evaluate the report and make a presentation to the City Council in about a month.