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DSA In the News

Sheriff’s Office welcomes cops from San Carlos

Published on 11/1/2010

Handing over an entire police department to the Sheriff’s Office requires more than just a city council decision or a formal swearing-in ceremony.

There are the compromises over who heads what, decisions about patrol schedules, physical evaluations to undergo, training to finish and retirement benefits to shift.

Oh, and don’t forget about the stars.

At 8:30 a.m. Friday, the San Carlos Police Department star on department vehicles were removed and replaced with a Sheriff’s Office decal. The small shift is similar to how former San Carlos Police Chief Greg Rothaus — now a captain in the Sheriff’s Office — and Sheriff Greg Munks hope the outsourcing appears to the public: nearly seamless.

Like the stars now bearing the Sheriff’s Office insignia, Rothaus hopes those watching the former San Carlos Police Department see the differences but feel just as protected.

“I want people to know and understand. The best-case scenario for me is they’ll understand they are just as safe and we’ll be there just as fast,” Rothaus said. 

Rothaus said he was so busy in the last day leading up to the official Oct. 31 hand-off that he didn’t take a lot of time to reflect on what this step means for him as an employee, instead of just for the department. While several of the department positions remain virtually unchanged, Rothaus gets a new role as captain. The job is still essentially chief of the San Carlos bureau but he’ll now turn to the Sheriff’s Office for administrative support and to run the patrol force.

Before joining the Sheriff’s Office, Rothaus retired from the city of San Carlos effective Saturday. The decision lets Rothaus collect his retirement from San Carlos and a salary and benefits package from the county.

Some like San Carlos Councilman Matt Grocott question whether state officials might want to evaluate whether public employees should be allowed to essentially benefit from multiple retirement plans. 

“I was bothered by the fact that San Carlos officials seem to be quietly applauding a situation where we were enriching someone’s retirement again,” Grocott said. “It was not the intent of the plan but it certainly was a side effect.”

The practice is not unheard of and Rothaus said he is completely within his rights, having paid into the plan for more than 25 years. 

The rumblings over Rothaus’ retirement is indicative of lingering debate about San Carlos’ decision to outsource its entire department as a cost-savings move. The final greenlight came after more than a year of discussion and several contentious public hearings

Although the numbers now indicate savings of approximately $2 million a year with the five-year contract, Grocott — the lone dissenter to outsourcing on the council — said there could be financial implications further down the road. 

Other employees can choose between staying with the city’s retirement plan or transferring to the county’s plan — one of the several loose ends that needed tying before the end of the month.

On Monday, a mass swearing in of the former San Carlos police officers will signify the official change but Rothaus said he expects some growing pains.

“We’ve asked for some patience. We’re undertaking something that’s really of enormous magnitude so I’m trying to think through all the eventualities,” Rothaus said.

Both before and after the City Council agreed to the sheriff’s contract, detractors argued the move could fail and jeopardize public safety.

Rothaus is confident the public will be secure but concedes the early months might have a misstep or two.

“If somebody wants to sit on the sidelines and find mistakes to call us on they’ll probably find something,” he said.

Who will do the calling now isn’t so clear. 

A trio of San Carlos residents launched two failed bids to ask voters to prevent outsourcing or layoffs in the department. Neither made the ballot.

The Police Officers Association, too, voted against outsourcing and head Gil Granado was an outspoken critic of the plan. However, several officers speaking anonymously said they actually favored the plan. Granado could not be reached for comment on his or the POA’s stance now.

The San Mateo County Deputy Sheriff’s Association, however, is ready to add the officers to its ranks.

DSA President DJ Wozniak said there were some concerns about seniority issues but fair compromises were reached. Surprising to both Wozniak and San Carlos brass, the city assignment turned out to be a hot commodity. Several deputies applied to work in the city while several officers took the outsourcing as an opportunity to try something new.

“You can’t get too hung up on what your current assignment is,” Wozniak said, ticking off various task forces as specialty areas now open to the former San Carlos officers.

Wozniak said the public can expects to see “a few different faces” but some may look familiar because the Sheriff’s Office already patrols unincorporated areas surrounding San Carlos. The city may even get more coverage that it’s used to, he said.

“It’s definitely the biggest bang for its buck,” he said.

Munks agreed.

“If there is any change, they will see more resources once the full assets of the Sheriff’s Office become available to them,” he said.

Even after Monday’s swearing in, the department will still be left to work out issues like getting dispatch services on the same frequency, he said.

For the most part, though, the shift should be fairly unnoticeable from the outside, he said.

The phone numbers will largely stay the same, Rothaus said, and Wozniak said the county is setting up a website and e-mail address for the public to send questions and comments.

San Carlos Mayor Randy Royce, a strong proponent of outsourcing both police and fire services, is also quick to point out the city will benefit from a mix of officers with local knowledge and deputies that bring a variety of other law enforcement experiences.

“San Carlos residents should sleep well this next week,” Royce said.

Former San Carlos police employees will be formally sworn into the Sheriff’s Office at 11 a.m. Monday, Nov. 1 at the old Redwood City Courthouse, 2200 Broadway, Redwood City.