Sheriff’s policing contract causes conflict in Encinitas

The downtown Encinitas sign.
(Charlie Neuman / San Diego Union-Tribune/Zuma Pre)

Several public speakers push for more spending, say city’s becoming “soft” on crime


A special meeting on a proposed Sheriff’s Department contract became a battleground this week when critics of the city’s mayor declared that Encinitas was becoming “soft” on crime and argued that the city might cut law enforcement spending.

One public speaker tried to engage in a “stare-down” with the mayor over what the word “equity” meant, several people displayed regional crime statistic charts and said Encinitas might become the next crime hot spot, and most declared that the city ought to increase its policing budget, not decrease it.

However, their claims don’t match what’s actually being proposed, council members told them. There’s no plan to cut the city’s policing services. The proposed five-year contract that city officials are considering actually increases spending for law enforcement services, they repeatedly stressed.

Meanwhile, two members of the city’s recently formed Equity Committee, which is tasked with looking into ways to make the city more inclusive, also said they weren’t calling for eliminating law enforcement funding. They said they wanted more data on calls for police assistance and more mental health services options for people in crisis.

And, the captain of the Encinitas substation said he wasn’t asking for more deputies than what’s proposed in the new contract.

“I think the staffing levels are adequate,” Capt. Dustin Lopez told the council in response to questions.

He added that Encinitas is on the low end of the national average when it comes to officer staffing levels, but said the city’s crime rate also is low, so “I think what we have in place are very adequate.”

Encinitas has contracted with the county Sheriff’s Department to provide law enforcement services ever since the city incorporated. Del Mar, Imperial Beach, Lemon Grove, Poway, Santee, San Marcos, Solana Beach and Vista also contract with the county to provide their policing services.

The current five-year sheriff’s contract is set to expire June 30. The county supervisors approved the new contract proposal earlier this week, and it’s expected to go before the Encinitas City Council for consideration in a month or two. The contract’s coming up in an election year, and the city’s mayor, Catherine Blakespear, is running as a Democratic candidate for a state Senate seat, a fact several public speakers mentioned as they pushed for more law enforcement in Encinitas.

The new proposed sheriff’s contract is little changed from the old one, a city staff report indicates. It proposes yearly price increases and the same law enforcement services as the current contract. In the first and second years of the new contract, costs are proposed to increase by 1 percent, while in years three through five, the cost would rise by 3.5 percent. Under the current five-year agreement, the increases ranged from 4.5 percent to 6 percent, the staff report continues.

While the sheriff’s captain said current staffing levels were acceptable to him, several public speakers said they would like more deputies in Encinitas.

Cardiff resident Carole Serling described a recent theft incident in her neighborhood where a trio of people stole packages off a homeowner’s porch and entered the unoccupied home through an unlocked door. She said she’s heard it took more than 40 minutes for deputies to respond when a neighbor reported the incident after viewing security camera footage from across the street.

Fellow Cardiff resident Julie Thunder, who ran against the mayor in the last election, said she thought the council ought to add another sheriff’s deputy and should make that decision without having the Equity Committee involved.

Peter Kohl, who has served with the sheriff’s senior volunteer patrol for more than 13 years, said no one from the Black or Latino communities has ever applied to volunteer with the group and “to me, equity is a two-way street.”

Public comments became so heated at times that the mayor ended her comments of the night by telling people to show respect, “lead with kindness” and avoid “the sense of hate.”