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DSA In the News

Police consolidation running smoothly, sheriff, officials say

Published on 1/3/2011

When it comes to the Sheriff Office’s absorption of the San Carlos Police Department, no news is good news.

“If anything, it is a continuation of what was already going on,” said Sheriff Greg Munks of his department bringing the San Carlos Police Department under its umbrella.

After months of negotiations, the outsourcing plan officially took effect Oct. 31. As the relationship passes its two-month anniversary, those involved say the best indicator of success is the lack of much change.

“I  haven’t heard any complaints from San Carlos residents and I’m guessing they don’t see any difference in the service they are receiving from the Sheriff’s Office from what they had with the San Carlos Police Department,” said DJ Wozniak, president of the Sheriff’s Deputies Association.

If anything, Munks, Wozniak and former San Carlos police chief Greg Rothaus, now sheriff’s captain, said there have been minor technology issues melding together the different systems.

For Rothaus, too, the shift means some snafus with his new title.

“I’m still getting used to it and so are the officers. Some call me captain, some call me chief. Some even call me Greg,” Rothaus chuckled.

Rothaus plans a quarterly report to the San Carlos City Council on Feb. 28, detailing the first three months of the five-year agreement estimated to save the city approximately $2 million annually.

The Sheriff’s Office beat out Redwood City for the San Carlos police contract in large part because it guaranteed jobs for every member of the 39-member department. The Sheriff’s Office had roughly two dozen vacancies and the county agreed to add the handful of others. The contract also transferred equipment and either resurrects or enhances programs like DARE and traffic enforcement.

The outsourcing move was part of the city’s efforts to end a $3.5 million budget deficit and a decade of cuts. The city also outsourced its parks maintenance and human resources payroll; fire is next up with proposals due Jan. 7.

While the possible savings weren’t quite in dispute as the city finalized the agreement, questions still remained over just how well the two agencies would meld together.

A four-minute response time has remained the same from November 2009 to November 2010, Rothaus said.

If San Carlos residents notice any difference, he said, it is the presence of more law enforcement and associated programs rather than less.

“A lot of the things we lost, we got back,” Rothaus said, ticking off the Sheriff’s Office citizens police academy planned for March.
“We haven’t had anything like that since ’05,” he said.

The police activities league, long gone, is now replaced with the Sheriff’s Activities League. Even a toy drive at Bianchini’s Market would have been nothing more than pipe dream with the San Carlos Police Department.

“The PD barely had the employees to staff the streets let alone have a toy drive,” he said.

Munks said talks are under way with the city’s schools to see if DARE is the best anti-drug program or if something else fits better. There are also plans for summer camp and brainstorming with the community over any crime problems.

To hear Munks and Rothaus, things could not be better. Proponents like Councilman Randy Royce have also consistently praised the relationship, pointing out increased law enforcement at community events like the holiday display of lights and hearing anecdotally about prompt and courteous response to calls.

The 16 deputies present at the holiday event alone is a sign of new flexibility and resources, he said.

“Under our old model, we never would have been able to do that. We’d have maybe two extra officers and be paying them overtime,” Royce said.

But the true test might be with the detractors, including residents who once considered asking voters to stop the City Council from outsourcing.

Ken Castle, who helped establish the White Oaks neighborhood watch and co-sponsored a measure to require voter approval for any outsourcing plan that never got momentum, isn’t sure the city has had an incident to fully test the responsiveness of the new arrangement.

“It’s too soon to tell,” Castle said.

Another hurdle to gauging any difference, he said, is the absence of daily San Carlos police activities being readily available online or to the press — one of the technical wrinkles both Munks and Rothaus pointed out.

Even without the logs, Castle said he’s noted several burglaries, thefts and even two armed robberies in White Oaks since the transition.

“This has a number of my neighbors quite concerned,” he said. 

Castle conducted an informal e-mail survey afterward, asking residents if they’ve seen more, less or about the same number of police patrols on the streets. Castle said the results were fairly equal in each category.

Resident Pat Bell, another author of the anti-outsourcing measure, said she’s seen lots of traffic cops but no other police in her neighborhood.

Realtor Bob Bredel thinks the change hasn’t really sunk in for some residents and, for others, there was so much lead time that everything looks like business as usual.

He also thinks the crimes noted by Castle are just a coincidence without any ties to the transition.

The majority of concern comes from people looking to move to San Carlos who don’t have quite the same grasp of the situation as residents, he said.

Instead, armed with news snippets, they question what exactly is going on.

“They think San Carlos is broke and ask if there are still patrols. The people in the city are very well-informed but unfortunately the biggest issue we’re facing is one of perception from those outside,” Bredel said.

Based on his experience, Bredel said residents are mainly positive about the significant change to get the budget back in line with what the city can afford.

“Apparently they got this right,” Bredel said.