In March 2017, the City Council will review a plan for Del Mar to establish its own police force, the alternative preferred by the City’s Finance Committee, as part of its examination of law enforcement options to the current arrangement with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department. Last April, the Council heard a presentation on the various scenarios set forth in two reports by Ralph Anderson & Associates, the consultant hired by the City to analyze the financial and organizational feasibility of the various options, including augmenting the Sheriff’s existing services by hiring community service officers, retaining private security services similar to Rancho Santa Fe, and establishing a stand-alone police department.
Barry Entous and Jim Benedict served on the Finance Committee’s Law Enforcement Subcommittee, providing guidance to the consultant team in their efforts to gather data and feedback from City staff, the Sheriff’s Department, and law enforcement staff in other jurisdictions. Entous says the Finance Committee has thoroughly studied the options presented in the reports, and advocates the stand-alone police department option. The estimated costs for the City to maintain its own police force are $2.4 million per year, which exceeds the current $2.14 million the City currently pays for the Sheriff’s services. The contract with the Sheriff, however, continues to escalate every year by about $100,000. The estimate does not include the $1.2 million start-up costs or the roughly $2-3 million that would be required to construct a suitable facility for the new department on City-owned property.
Following a presentation last spring by the Finance Committee and the consultants, the City Council authorized the City Manager to develop a plan focusing on the police department option. This spring, Entous says the Council will begin the review process for a new police force in Del Mar, and hopes the Council will direct them to vet the proposal in the community.
The Finance Committee began studying alternatives to Del Mar’s contract with the Sheriff about four years ago, in response to community concerns about the high cost of law enforcement services, slow response times to lower priority calls, frequent turnover of Sheriff deputies, and the low profile of law enforcement personnel in the community, also known as “patrol presence.”
While the data on annual crime rates do not indicate that Del Mar is in the throes of a crime wave—in fact crime rates have been pretty stable—community awareness of local crime incidents has increased markedly, due to the use of social media platforms like NextDoor and websites like CrimeMapping.com. While most agree that the Sheriff’s “one-size-fits-all”contract is a cultural misfit for the small-town sensibility of Del Mar, some have questioned whether tiny Del Mar needs its own police department and think the Sheriff’s scope of services can be bolstered to better meet the needs of the community. Those who think Del Mar should invest in its own police force argue that the City has no higher priority than public safety. Residents will have the opportunity to hear about the proposal and provide their feedback on this important issue over the coming months.