Del Mar Council considers creating a supplemental police force

Although Del Mar officials agreed last year to try to negotiate improved law enforcement services from the county rather than create its own department, the city is once again exploring the idea of a Del Mar police force.

Rather than start a standalone department as previously suggested, the Sheriff’s Sub-Committee recommended Jan. 20 that Del Mar establish a small police force to supplement the Sheriff’s efforts.

“Our committee sincerely believes that the best option is to complement our Sheriff and establish our own small police department,” said Barry Entous, a member of the Sheriff’s Sub-Committee, which stems from the Finance Committee. “We believe it’s a win-win for our city and the Sheriff.”

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

Although the council renewed a five-year contract with the department in 2013, the city hired a consultant to review its contract, compare Del Mar’s law enforcement costs with other cities, and evaluate other law enforcement alternatives, such as creating a standalone police department. The study was prompted after the Finance Committee recommended the city research other options for law enforcement because of increased contract costs and service complaints from residents.

When the study revealed that a standalone department would cost more than $2 million a year and about $1 million in start-up costs, however, the council in November 2013 opted to try to improve the services the city receives from the department.

Since then, Del Mar has worked with the department in an effort to improve services, while the Finance Committee has continued to study alternatives to the sheriff’s contract.

“I get the issue of community and community-oriented policing,” said sheriff’s Capt. Theresa Adams-Hydar, who oversees the day-to-day operations of the Encinitas station, which covers Del Mar, Solana Beach, Encinitas and neighboring communities. “The Sheriff’s Department does that well. We do. We do it well, especially when we have the staffing.”

Since joining the station last spring, Adams-Hydar has worked with city staff and listened to the finance committee. She implemented a performance plan to increase visibility and connectivity in the community. She also held a “Coffee with the Sheriff” outreach event in September. Another is scheduled for 6-7 p.m. Jan. 26 at the City Hall Annex Building. Staff will be there as early as 5 p.m., City Manager Scott Huth announced during the meeting.

Using the city’s relief budget, Adams-Hydar plans to increase patrol services in Del Mar in February or March, she said.

“I think you’re going to see a difference; I think you’re going to be pleased with the difference,” she said. “It’s something that, I think, should have probably been done a long time ago, but everybody looks at budgets and numbers and staffing differently. This is how I see it.”

Still unsatisfied with the department’s response times to lower-priority calls and its lack of presence in the community, the Sheriff’s Sub-Committee suggested the city establish a small police department consisting of a police chief, one or two certified peace officers, and one or two community service officers.

Entous estimated the department would cost about $575,000 per year, with about $100,000 in startup costs for two vehicles, equipment and training.

Del Mar’s ranger program costs about $175,000. To help cover the rest of the costs, the city could renegotiate its Sheriff’s contract to allow Del Mar’s department to enforce traffic, saving $300,000, Entous said. Del Mar could also obtain an annual $100,000 grant from the state.

“The Sheriff is not connected to us,” said Del Mar resident Bud Emerson, who serves on the Finance Committee. “We don’t know who they are and they don’t know who we are. One of the things that I think this proposal does is, it keeps the best of the Sheriff’s Department, but it gives us contact with people who will help provide good order and safety — the service that we, as citizens, want in a small town like ours.”

Although the committee suggested the department start in September, Adams-Hydar noted accreditation could take up to two years. She also said it would be the only such model in the state.

“It would be very difficult,” she said.

With Huth agreeing that a supplemental police force is a “valid concept,” the council unanimously agreed to “cautiously explore” whether such a department is viable.

“I’m all for exploring this option, but somewhat cautiously,” said Councilman Don Mosier. “There are a lot of little moving parts that need to be fleshed out to understand how this is going to work and how much it’s really going to cost.”

Mayor Al Corti and Councilman Terry Sinnott, who both serve as liaisons to the Finance Committee, agreed to talk with the Sheriff’s Department to see whether they would work with Del Mar’s own supplementary force. At the same time, staff will estimate a budget.

“This model, I think, paints a very nice picture that we can make some improvements,” said Sinnott, who serves as a liaison to the Finance Committee. “I think this is a dynamic way of pinpointing some solutions to some specific and unique problems that Del Mar has.”