ENCINITAS — After weeks of national unrest and local protests, the City of Encinitas and Captain Herbert Taft of the San Diego County Sheriff’s North Coastal Station, will host a virtual law enforcement forum on July 28, discussing the station’s local operations as well as answer questions from the public.
The community forum is an extension of the previously established “Coffee with the Community” sessions hosted by Taft in Del Mar, Solana Beach and Encinitas over the past two years, and will allow for unlimited viewership live on YouTube as well as 50 virtual Zoom reservations.
Additional questions and comments for officials may be submitted via email no later than July 23, at 5 p.m. to [email protected].
Beginning late May, local civil rights groups called for greater transparency and conversations between the public and the Sheriff’s Department during weeks of protests following the death of George Floyd, a Minneapolis man killed in police custody.
Following protests, the sheriff’s department published a response to community concerns over racial disparities and bias among law enforcement officials, outlining de-escalation policies, recent statistics, and oversight programs.
The Coast News sat down with Taft to discuss the upcoming forum, local relations between the public and the department, as well as the direction of the North Coastal Station under his leadership.
Since Taft’s appointment in 2018, Encinitas’ has ranked among the top two safest cities in San Diego County, enjoying a roughly 25% decrease in property and violent crimes.
Despite a rash of springtime gatherings ranging from civil rights demonstrations to COVID-19 protests, relations between deputies and residents have remained peaceful.
Taft’s intentions for the upcoming forum are to give the public a chance to better know him as a leader and to answer any policy questions.
“I want the public to understand the head of law enforcement for this community, what my philosophies are and the high standards and accountability I hold my station to,” Taft said. “I will accept nothing less than professional behavior. That’s it.”
Serving in the Navy prior to entering law enforcement, Taft has served his respective communities for decades.
“I have always felt my calling was to serve my community and country,” Taft said. “I have a passion for this.”
In regards to the current social unrest, Taft believes he brings a unique take on the situation.
“I grew up in Oakland and had to deal with the Oakland (Police Department),” Taft said. “I’ve seen and been on both sides of this argument, so I understand it. I see why people are passionate about the change they’d like to see.
“All I know is my job here is to protect my community and not let this impact what we do and how we do it. Let the politicians work out that part of it. I have to focus on the best service I can do for this community.”
Local civil rights groups have expressed interest in several important topics, including protesters’ rights, implicit bias and the “Defund the Police” movement.
Taft is open to answering questions on all issues, including other topics such as traffic and homelessness, committing to complete transparency.
“Hosting this community forum gives us an opportunity to put the facts out there,” Taft said, “And when I say that, I mean the honest facts. That’s exactly what you’re going to get from me — honesty.”
Taft repeatedly reiterated the sheriff department’s full support of peaceful, purposeful demonstrations.
“We’ve been in the difficult situation of maintaining people’s First Amendment rights while also bearing in mind the government’s orders on large gatherings,” Taft said. “Our main objective is to keep people safe. That’s all I care about, regardless of their individual messages. [People] have the right to be out there, expressing themselves, and we want to support them and keep them safe.”
“We reach out to each organizer and try to form a plan,” Taft said. “We’re in there, talking to people and it’s an opportunity for people to see that we’re not against them. Our Deputies have had nothing but good things to say about all the recent organizers and groups around here.”
‘Defund the Police’
Taft was adamant about keeping politics out of this conversation with the Coast News, stating, “I’ll leave that decision up to the politicians. My responsibility and job is right here, to protect this community and provide the best service.”
However, Taft illuminated the ever-growing list of responsibilities modern deputies are expected (and trained) to handle.
“We’ve evolved over the years and [the police] have become one of the largest health providers,” Taft said, “Our PERT (Psychiatric Emergency Response Team) unit includes trained psychiatric nurses, assigned to deputies to make those calls,” Taft said, noting the number of non-criminal situations police are expected to handle.
“But now, that’s just what’s expected of law enforcement,” Taft said. “We’re social workers, we’re sometimes marriage counselors on domestic violence calls, and we have become entrenched in the homeless issue.
“It would be less of a burden on our police to have those duties taken off our shoulders and put on someone who has much more training as an expert, going to school specifically for each situation… the people who do that for a living every day.
“If that’s the direction of the movement, you’d have our support because we’re always trying to do the best for the public. I’m not sure if that’s representative of the whole [Defund the Police] movement, but from my perspective, we always welcome help from trained professionals.”
Fear of cops
“What happens in other states or jurisdictions is not a reflection of the law enforcement community as a whole,” Taft said, pointing to the killing of Floyd and other recently publicized altercations with police departments around the nation.
“Has anyone seen that kind of extreme behavior here? No.” Taft asked. “Trust me, we are paying a price for what that officer did as well as the officers who didn’t do anything about it. We are paying a price for that and it’s unfortunate that people think all police officers are like that. It’s just an unfair assumption.
“[Encinitas police] are the same people who are going to church with you, are a part of your baseball league and are your neighbors… that’s who I work with here. They come in every day and try to do the best they can. We’ve got to do the right thing for people and so I set high standards.”
When asked how he felt as a Black police officer amidst recent Black Lives Matter protests and deep-seated racial division, Taft reiterated his dedication to his job.
“My job is to protect the rights of every single person here and I am not going to waver from that or do anything different,” Taft said. “It doesn’t matter what your skin color is, your gender, your ethnicity, none of that matters. My folks will treat everyone the same and if they don’t, they have to answer to me and I hold them accountable.
“Of course I have personal feelings about certain things, but that doesn’t change how I do my job. It doesn’t change my philosophy.
“We risk our lives every day for people we don’t know and it doesn’t matter, you could be a long-time criminal, if you require our services, you’re going to get them,” Taft said. “We understand that when we are sworn in, we will go into dangerous and unknown situations. You will risk your life to save others. That’s what you do.”
Local civil rights groups including “Encinitas 4 Equality,” the organization responsible for hosting peaceful demonstrations at the Cardiff Kook statue will be present for the virtual forum.
Marlon Taylor, Encinitas resident and member of Encinitas 4 Equality, is optimistic, looking forward to the forum and the ability to ask questions of Captain Taft and the City.
“I have faith that [Captain Taft] will be open to all our questions,” Taylor said. “It’s going to be interesting. I feel like Encinitas is the perfect community for this conversation because it’s not overwrought with violent crime or dangerous.
“[Success] stems from effective communication,” Taylor said. “If people are open and honest and willing to work together you can accomplish anything. I’m positive that there will be some positive movement in the near future.”