By Kristina Houck
A study is underway to explore whether Del Mar should cut its contract with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department and establish its own police department.
Although the City Council in January renewed a five-year contract with the Sheriff’s Department, council members agreed to research other viable options for law enforcement. Ralph Andersen & Associates was awarded a $25,000 contract four weeks ago to conduct the study.
“Our goal is to have somebody professionally tell us whether we should stay with the Sheriff’s Department or whether we should look at other options,” said Jim Benedict, chair of the Sheriff’s Sub-Committee and member of the Finance Committee, which recommended the city evaluate alternatives such as creating its own police department or pursuing a joint venture with nearby cities. “Our goal is for the report to expose that in some way, shape or form.”
During a status report at a special meeting of the Del Mar Finance Committee on July 8, a representative of the consulting firm presented its initial findings.
Del Mar currently pays more than $1.76 million in law enforcement services, which includes one 24-7 patrol officer and one traffic officer working eight-hour days Monday through Friday.
“Compared to cities up the coast, the neighboring cities, Del Mar is paying a lot more per capita for law enforcement,” said John Goss, senior associate of consulting firm Ralph Andersen & Associates. “Compared to other cities around the state the size of Del Mar, where the population evens out, it’s kind of in the middle.”
Del Mar spends about 17.7 percent of its general fund on law enforcement services. The city’s general fund grows by about 2 percent every year while the contract with the Sheriff’s Department increases about 5.5 percent annually, according to the Finance Committee’s January report.
Goss compared these figures with the law enforcement budget of eight California cities similar in size to Del Mar: Avalon, Carmel, Indian Wells, Ojai, Pismo Beach, Ross, Sausalito and Solvang. Five of these cities are paying more per capita and three are paying less, Goss said.
“The cost is very expensive,” said Benedict after the meeting. “For a small city like ours, that’s a problem.”
In addition to the escalating cost of the contract with the Sheriff’s Department, committee members expressed concerns about the quality of services.
Councilman Al Corti, who serves as a liaison to the committee, said he wants the report to not just compare the Sheriff’s Department contract with a city-run department, but to explore what other services the Sheriff’s Department can provide.
“I want more from this study,” Corti said. “I don’t want to just be told I’m getting value from this contract or it’s a cost-effective contract. I want to know what we are not getting and what might it cost us.
“I want to understand better—can we get more at the end of the day? If it costs us more, maybe it’s worth it.”
Some committee members noted a stand-alone department would allow Del Mar to increase law enforcement services during the summer months, particularly during the fair and racing season — an option not included in the current contract with the Sheriff’s Department.
“We can direct the department more in terms of the priority of services that we’re looking for,” said committee member Bud Emerson.
Goss expects to present the draft report to the Finance Committee in mid-September. After the report is finalized, it will be presented before the City Council.