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Council to discuss police options with sheriff … again

DEL MAR — Council members took another small step in their years-long effort to determine whether the city should create its own police force, forming an ad hoc committee at the Aug. 7 meeting that will again discuss options with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.

Mayor Terry Sinnott and former Mayor Al Corti during the past few years met with Sheriff William Gore, department staff member Ed Prendergast and all the local sheriff captains — four in six years — “to see how we could improve community policing.”

“We received firm responses,” Sinnott said. “Del Mar can pay for more sheriff services or create their own police department.”

Sinnott said the problem with the first option is cost.

“The services are very expensive and do not guarantee improved response times or that deputies will remain in the community,” he said.

But during a law enforcement feasibility workshop in Del Mar last month, Mike Barnett, assistant sheriff for law enforcement services, intimated the department may be able to work with the city to provide options to address those issues.

“The council would like to meet one more time with the sheriff and see if there is any change in how we can work together,” Sinnott said.

Del Mar has contracted with the Sheriff’s Department for law enforcement since its inception in 1959. As the price tag for those services steadily increased, council directed a finance subcommittee about six or seven years ago to look into cost-saving measures.

While doing so finance committee members discovered residents had concerns about slow response times for low-priority calls and a lack of police presence in the city.

So council members began looking into creating a standalone police department. According to multiple studies, the annual cost would be similar to what the city is paying now — about $2.3 million — with estimated startup fees of between $2.1 million and $3.5 million.

While response times would likely decrease and police presence would increase, concerns remain about where to locate a station, holding arrestees until they can be transported to the county jail, dispatch services and liability insurance.

Sinnott and Councilwoman Ellie Haviland were tasked with creating a list of the city’s goals and expectations. They will run it by their colleagues before meeting with the Sheriff’s Department to see if supplemental services can be provided and at what cost.

Councilman Dwight Worden said once those issues are addressed, he would like to host a discussion, during which representatives on both sides of the topic can present the pros and cons of forming a standalone department.

“I think we do need to pursue the crack in the door with the sheriff just to find out … (if there is) some flexibility,” he said, adding that the city has “a stack of data,” but it needs to do more than hand residents reports and tell them to figure it out themselves.

Worden said he would support a community survey or vote. Dave Druker was the only councilman who disagreed.

He has opposed the idea of a Del Mar police department from the start. He said he knocked on doors while campaigning last fall and nearly everyone he talked to agreed with him.

He said the three people who supported the proposal were not elected. Additionally, he said it is not identified as a high-priority project.

“We’ve got a whole lot of stuff on our platter that we all know are must haves,” Druker said. “This is not a must have.”

“My goal is to do whatever we can to get the council to a point where they are comfortable with making an informed decision later this fall,” Sinnott said. “I feel good because I have done what I think a city council should do, and that is look at public safety, see how you can deliver public safety in a cost-effective way, maybe improve it, maybe control costs better.

“Dave, I understand you walked door to door … but I don’t think anybody has really dug into the limitations of what the sheriff can do,” he added. “It’s an education curve that we all have to understand before the decision is made. I’m going to sleep really well either way.”