North County sheriff’s captain holds virtual forum

Capt. Herb Taft led a Zoom forum about Encinitas policing.

San Diego Sheriff’s Capt. Herb Taft held a virtual public forum on July 28 to answer questions about policing in Encinitas, but declined to address racism or any of the broader questions that police nationwide are facing in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death.

Taft said he wanted the forum, which lasted three hours, to focus on issues specific to Encinitas. In response to a few questions about racism in local policing, mostly from members of grassroots group Encinitas 4 Equality, Taft emphasized that he and his deputies aim to treat everyone equally.

“Other social agendas like race relations that are outside of my control, or defunding or budgets or things like that, that’s outside of my control,” he said. “You can’t expect me to answer those sorts of things.”

But some participants were looking for more incisive answers.

“If you can’t acknowledge that racial profiling is real and it happens in the police force … how are you going to lead this department to address what is happening not only in this country, but in Encinitas?” said Encinitas resident Mali Woods-Drake, a founder of Encinitas 4 Equality.

She mentioned William Carr, a Black man who was allegedly experiencing symptoms related to his Type 1 diabetes two years ago when he stopped in an Encinitas diner for a snack to raise his blood sugar. The manager called 911 because of Carr’s worsening symptoms. Two responding deputies allegedly put Carr, then 31, in a headlock, tased him and dragged him out of the diner in handcuffs, according to a lawsuit Carr filed in federal court. The case is ongoing.

“I’m not going to get into a debate with you on this topic,” Taft told Woods-Drake.

Rachel McHale, another Encinitas 4 Equality member, asked about how different races in the community feel differently about contact with police, and how the department can strengthen relationships among all residents.

“You’ve got to build the trust,” Taft said. “You’ve got to work on building that bridge and keeping that line of communication open. People have to trust you. No matter what race you are, they have to believe that you are going to do the right thing.”

The captain also talked about deescalation training that the department receives, as well as the role of the psychiatric emergency response team in calls that involve mental health issues.

Taft also went over data that showed there was one instance in which the sheriff’s department used lethal force in 2019, down from five in 2018 and 11 in 2017.

“One is too many, but the fact is we are trying every way possible to keep that number at zero,” he said.

Taft showed Encinitas crime data for 2018 and 2019, which account for the two years he’s served as captain at the North Coastal Station. The number of property crimes went from 1,341 to 995. Crimes against persons increased slightly from 406 to 417. He also showed Encinitas had a 2019 crime rate of 10.9 per 1,000 residents, second to Poway among the 18 cities in San Diego County.

“For the most part, you live in a relatively safe community,” he said.

Taft said the hotspot for crime in Encinitas is in close proximity to Target, Walmart and Home Depot. The top five crimes in the city are shoplifting, theft from vehicle, commercial robbery, commercial burglary and aggravated assault, he added.

The hotspots for traffic collisions are Olivenhain Road and Town Center Drive, Leucadia Boulevard and North El Camino Real, Mountain Vista Drive and Via Molena, Encinitas Boulevard and North El Camino Real, and Encinitas Boulevard and Beachtree Drive, Taft said.

In 2019, there were 153 non-injury collisions, 122 collisions that caused injuries and 23 bicycle-related accidents.

Taft credited his deputies for keeping the community safe. He said areas of improvement include faster response times and having deputies be more proactive in monitoring the community.

“The captain has to set the bar high, and I do set the bar high,” Taft said.