The Coast News Group
Robert Haley, the new chief of police, sits in his office at the Encinitas Sheriff’s Station, which serves three cities and the unincorporated area of Rancho Santa Fe. Haley, who leads nearly 100 deputies, said he’s a big believer in data-driven crime prevention. Photo by Jared Whitlock

With the New Year, there’s a new sheriff in town

ENCINITAS — During his first day on the job, Capt. Robert Haley acknowledged there’s much to learn as the new chief of police at the Encinitas Sheriff’s Station. 

Not only does he now oversee Encinitas, but he’s also in charge of Solana Beach, Del Mar and Rancho Santa Fe.

But Haley said he’s ready to tackle any challenges thrown his way, calling the new assignment “an opportunity, not a burden.”

A proponent of community-oriented policing, Haley said he’s interested in the crime trends in each of the communities that are under his watch.

“Using community-oriented policing, you have to do research to find out the root cause of things,” said Haley. “Sometimes it’s talking to the community you serve. Sometimes it’s using crime analysis — what’s referred to as information-led policing.”

By continuously analyzing where and when past crimes occurred, the department can better allocate resources to stop illegal activities. Haley, who has served with the county since 1985, noted law enforcement’s approach has changed over the last decade. And rightfully so, he said.

“We used to be beat-driven; we said this is your area and that’s that,” Haley said, adding that spotting crime trends in the past was difficult, because arrests weren’t analyzed as thoroughly.

“These days we respond more to data and trends to find the cause and hopefully solve the problem,” Haley said.

Data-centric enforcement isn’t necessarily new for the Encinitas Sheriff’s station; Haley said this approach successfully curtailed vehicle break-ins this summer, which he’d like to continue.

But Haley said he’d like to emphasize the philosophy even more, particularly in areas like downtown Encinitas, as many residents believe late-night drinking has gotten out of hand there.

“It’s checkpoints at the right spots, increased patrols during certain days and nights, getting people from other commands to come in at times — to let it be known that illegal behavior won’t be tolerated,” said Haley, adding that he also has his eye on burglaries in Encinitas.

Haley said the communities under the department’s jurisdiction have unique issues, including traffic caused by special events. Here, too, data-driven policing is important, he believes. Based on traffic patterns, the department can send the proper number of deputies to the Del Mar Fairgrounds, for example, to direct cars when a special event is on tap.

Del Mar City Manager Scott Huth said he was impressed by Haley’s take on special event management when they met twice during the interview process. Huth, along with two other city managers, had the final word on whether to approve Haley for the job.

“We’re on the same page with how to handle these events,” Huth said. “Not that we weren’t diligent before, but we really wanted to address potential concerns with permits, traffic control and people being in the right-of-way with so many new events happening. The sheriffs play a key role for all of these things.”

During talks with Haley, Huth said he also communicated the importance of the sheriff’s department being visible in the community.

“We want them interacting with residents and business owners on a regular basis — keeping a high profile so to speak.” Huth said. “I think he (Haley) believes in that as well — that’s key.”

Haley, who currently lives in Escondido with his wife, has a jump start in terms of familiarity with the community. Of the areas he heads, he’s called Encinitas, Solana Beach and Del Mar home at various points in his life.

After graduating from Torrey Pines High School, Haley studied to become a math teacher at MiraCosta College. A friend, however, thought Haley’s personality suited law enforcement. Haley’s dye was cast as a teacher, or so he thought until he gave a police ride-along a shot.

“I immediately saw this is something I really want to do — that it’s different every day,” Haley said. “I’ll tell you, this is my 28th year, and I’ve never been bored one day. I don’t think there are many professions where you can say that.”

Looking back at his career so far, Haley said he’s especially proud of helping to orchestrate a drug ring bust while he was commander of the Sheriff’s Fallbrook substation. With the help of federal agencies, 50 drug and weapons dealers were eventually arrested last October as a result of the complex operation.

Haley then left that position to recruit and hire sheriff’s deputies for the county. He said the experience cemented in his mind what it takes to work in law enforcement.

“People have to have a certain makeup for this line of work,” Haley said. “If gunfire started right now, we run toward gun fire. That is not a normal human reaction, but that’s how we’re wired and that’s how we train.”

Haley replaced Capt. Sherri Sarro, who commanded the Encinitas Sheriff’s Station for two and a half years. Sarro will take over as the head of the Sheriff’s emergency services division.

“This is bittersweet,” Sarro said. “I’m excited for my new opportunity, but I’ll miss the people of Encinitas.”

“I’m confident (Haley) will use all of his experience to step in and do great,” she added.