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COMMENTARY:
Handcuffing our Future?
Joe Sullivan | Ocean Front

On Monday, July 10, the City Council will convene a special workshop to revisit—in earnest—the risks and benefits of creating Del Mar’s own City Police Force. The driving factor is financial—can Del Mar get better service with its own police department than it currently gets from the Sheriff, for less money? The Council workshop follows several years of study and analysis by the City’s Finance Committee and its consultant, which resulted in a complete staff report presented by the City Manager earlier this year. The workshop will include a panel of public safety experts who can respond to questions and provide a greater level of detail on relevant issues. At a subsequent meeting, the Council will determine if staff should move forward on organizing a City police force to replace the current Sheriff’s contract.

At its June 19 meeting, the Council approved a new five-year contract with the Sheriff. However, the City may cancel the contract with a one-year notice. The current contract requires the City of Del Mar to pay the Sheriff $2.3 million for law enforcement services, which is about 20% of our city’s operating budget. It is anticipated that this cost will increase by more than 5% every year, while city revenues are forecast to increase by only 3%.
While many residents have expressed skepticism about the costs and risks of establishing and operating our own police force, the community should look beyond finances to make this high-stakes decision. For example:

• What kind of police department do we want? The concept of “community policing” sounds attractive. But, what does that mean in practice? Can we have “neighborly” policing without getting into intrusive policing, favoritism, or petty corruption?
• Where would a police department be housed? If it would be at City Hall, would a new EIR be required? If not, where would a new facility be located?
• What gives us confidence that we can recruit and retain quality personnel when we read that neighboring cities are having trouble doing the same?
• Would we require a Police Commission? If so, how would we keep it from becoming politicized?
• Police officers are typically represented by a strong and active union. How might that affect our small-town politics?
• Is it prudent to trade the “Devil we know” for the “Devil we don’t know?”

These concerns, and more, should be examined and discussed at the July 10 workshop. If the Council decides to go forward with planning for a police department, this needs to be viewed in the context of other City priorities, as other projects may need to be canceled or postponed due to budget constraints.

 

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