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Del Mar advances plans to split from Sheriff’s Department

DEL MAR — The city is moving forward with plans to separate from the county Sheriff’s Department and create its own police force.

Council members at the May 16 meeting authorized staff to begin an aggressive implementation process based on a recommendation from the Finance Committee, which has been researching the idea for nearly four years.

The advisory group was tasked with analyzing the proposal after the community voiced concerns about average response times of 50 minutes for low priority calls, limited traffic enforcement for speeding motorists and bicyclists that don’t obey the law and little sheriff support during peak summer months.

They also had issues with rising costs for a decrease in services and expressed a desire for community policing, in which the assigned deputy knows the community and vice versa.

“The sheriff is capable of doing certain tasks,” said Barry Entous, a member of the Finance subcommittee that was looking into law enforcement options. “They’re not capable of doing the tasks that the community wants it to deal with, which is poor response time and no community policing.

“That model is not available by the Sheriff’s Department at any cost,” he added.

Del Mar has contracted with the Sheriff’s Department for police services since its inception in 1959.

Under the current contract, for a cost of about $2.4 million, the city gets the equivalent of about seven officers and regional services such as SWAT, aerial support, search and rescue, the crime lab and bomb and arson.

In 2000 Del Mar paid about $1 million for the equivalent of nine officers.

The city hired Ralph Anderson & Associates in 2013 to evaluate its law enforcement situation. According to an updated 2015 report presented last month, Del Mar could form its own department with 15 full-time and four part-time employees for about $2.3 million.

One-time startup costs are estimated at $1.2 million, but don’t include building a facility.

The Finance Committee recommendation called for staff to return with an implementation plan by October and for the hiring process to begin on or before Dec. 31.

City Manager Scott Huth said November was a more realistic date to present the plan.

“This is a huge step for the city so I don’t think we should rush this,” Councilman Don Mosier said. “We’ve lived with the problems for many years, and I would like not to live with them for that much longer. But I also think it’s very important to do this right.

“I would like a thorough risk-benefit analysis of this plan as part of the implementation strategy,” he added. “And that needs some thorough vetting. … My gut tells me it’s going to be more expensive and that having our own police officers will solve some of the problems that are listed but not all of them.”

Mosier said there could also be recruiting challenges unless the city can find retired officers who want “a calm community and not much excitement in their life.”

Some of his colleagues said they were told Del Mar would have little problem attracting officers.

“I think there’s both right and wrong in what’s being said out there,” Huth said. “I think we would be attractive as an organization to work for. The other reality is every police organization in San Diego County is having a hard time recruiting and keeping staff.

“A number of things would be developed in the implementation plan to give a full perspective from the operational standpoint,” he added. “There’s a mount of information that still needs to be researched, developed and provided as part of the decision model.

“There’s quite a bit of stuff out there we can mine to get more information to answer these questions,” Huth said.

Councilman Terry Sinnott said he supports the plan because the number of people coming to the city is expected to increase constantly over time.

This visitor load will grow and I think we have to be thinking about preparing for that, he said.

“We are thinking about getting a better level of service,” he added. “And we’ve done that with our lifeguards. We’ve done that with our firefighters. We’ve done that with our ranger.

“What the sheriff is able to do under the contract is a type of service that isn’t fitting with what we’re going to need,” Sinnott said. “And I think taking this to the next step into an implementation plan … is something that we owe the community.”

Councilman Dwight Worden said he wants the implementation plan to include what share of services, such as SWAT, aerial support, search and rescue and the crime lab, residents are entitled to as county taxpayers.

“This is the right decision for our city,” Councilman Al Corti said. “Now let’s figure out how to do it.”