New top cop seeks public’s engagement in fighting crime

The San Diego Police Department’s new top cop for Carmel Valley and neighboring communities is focused on preventing crime and preserving the region’s quality of life, but he’s asking for the help of residents in carrying out his mission.

“My personal priority is to get the community more engaged in their own protection and their own awareness. I want to prevent more crimes from occurring,” said Capt. Mark Hanten, 55, who took over as commander of the department’s Northwestern Division — which works out of a station on El Camino Real south of Del Mar Heights Road — in early November.

Hanten is a 26-year veteran of the department. His past assignments have included command of the Special Weapons and Tactics, or SWAT, team, as well as leading the busy Northern Division office, which serves such areas as La Jolla, Pacific Beach and University City. Hanten is switching jobs with his predecessor, Capt. Stephanie Rose, who will now head up Northern Division.

Northwestern Division serves a population of 70,000 and covers 41 square miles, including the communities of Carmel Valley, Sorrento Valley, Torrey Preserve, Del Mar Heights, North City, Torrey Highlands and Black Mountain Ranch. 

Crime is relatively low in those communities compared to other parts of San Diego, said Hanten, and therefore the need for police resources is less pressing. But that relative safety has led some residents to lower their guard.

“The biggest problem here is people don’t lock their doors, and the cars have the keys in them,” he said.

That could lead to residents being needlessly victimized by criminals, he said.

Crime rates overall have dropped dramatically in San Diego County and across the country since peaking in the early 1990s. But they are starting to creep back up again, said Hanten, in part due to voter-approved state laws designed to reduce jail and prison over-crowding, resulting in the release of inmates, as well as reduced police staffing due to officer recruitment and retention issues.

The department’s officers are doing a great job with the resources they have, he said, but, “We can barely keep up.”

By taking measures to reduce vulnerability, Hanten said, residents can “put us in a position to turn the tide.”

Along with such common-sense measures as locking doors and removing keys from car ignitions, residents can install home security systems and outdoor lighting, including motion sensors, to deter criminals, said Hanten. He also suggested residents get to know their neighbors, so they can report suspicious behavior by those who don’t belong in the neighborhood, and form neighborhood watch groups.

Hanten said he doesn’t want residents to be afraid in their homes and out in the community, but to be aware of potential risks and take steps to protect themselves.

One method for connecting with neighbors, said Officer Trevor Philips, community relations officer for Northwestern Division, is a website called Nextdoor.com.

Residents can log onto nextdoor.com/sandiego, type in their address, and join the online community for their immediate area, said Philips.

On the site, neighbors can share a variety of information, from garage sale notices to reports of suspicious activity, and Philips can also send out announcements, alerts and other data. Philips said he can only see the conversations when he is included by residents.

Some 11,000 households have joined the Nextdoor site from Northwestern Division, said Philips.

Those who want to contact Philips with a question or concern can reach him at 858-523-7031 or ttphilips@pd.sandiego.gov.

Hanten said one of his immediate goals is to double Nextdoor.com enrollment in the communities served by Northwestern Division, which will help raise awareness of crime and safety issues.

Hanten and his wife, Karen, a pediatrician, have two grown children, who both graduated from Stanford and work in the tech industry. When not at work, he enjoys hunting, fishing, shooting and flying.

He said he is looking forward to getting to know the community served by Northwestern Division, and will be available to meet with community groups by request.

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