Following a preliminary meeting in June, residents gathered at the monthly Bird Rock Community Council (BRCC) meeting Sept. 6 at the elementary school, for a forum on safety and to discuss the possibility of hiring private security to patrol neighborhoods.
Spearheaded by BRCC trustee Ron Fineman, a group of residents met June 30 to hear a presentation from Doug Frost, founder of the private security firm National Public Safety. The topic was also addressed at the July BRCC meeting, and with questions remaining, Frost agreed to attend the September meeting to answer them. (BRCC did not meet in August.)
“We wanted to find a company to patrol the streets and address the types of crimes San Diego Police Department cannot get to because they are short-staffed and dealing with more violent crimes,” said Fineman, adding that the website lajollasafety.org was established to provide the community with more information.
Explaining the relationship between his security firm and the police force, Frost said, “In my eyes, we’re the little brother. We go in, find out what the situation is in low-priority crimes — noise complaints, suspicious activity, suspicious vehicles, etc. — and then call SDPD and let them know whether the situation is valid. Instead of tying them up with low-priority calls, we deal with those. We do the leg work and prep work for them.” Frost added that when giving a report to SDPD dispatch, his patrolmen file a complete report with all the necessary information a civilian might not think to note or include.
Frost fielded questions from attendees, chiefly on cost and how to justify providing security to residents who don’t “subscribe” to the service, but still reap the benefits. Both these questions were raised at previous meetings.
Fineman explained, “We need residents to support the program. Thirty to 40 residents and/or merchants, each paying about $100 a month, would be enough to get the patrol started, and at least establish a presence. With additional subscribers, the number of hours or patrolmen would increase. If we had 100 residents or merchants sign up, we could have more hours.”
Frost added he would ultimately like to get two vehicles, with one officer in each car, on patrol 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with additional coverage for Halloween and Fourth of July holidays.
As for distribution of benefits, Frost said there were jurisdictional lines to consider. “If one person pays, but their neighbor doesn’t, yes they will both see the benefit of reduction in crime by having us here ... but if one subscribes, we can follow up when their home alarm goes off or we can check on their house while they are on vacation. We can’t do that for a non-subscriber.”
For many, contracting private security is seen as a short-term solution until issues with short-staffing in the police department can be addressed. Down about 200 officers, SDPD has not been able to proactively patrol, or respond to low-priority calls as quickly as some would like.
“We have property crime, which is a shame and it’s awful, but we don’t have violent crime. From a realistic standpoint, there are only so many SDPD officers and most of our crime is low priority,” said the BRCC Neighborhood Watch chair.
To speak to the current state of the department, Police Community Relations Officer Larry Hesselgesser attended and discussed some of the broader issues that impact the police department and why there is a shortage of officers. His points spanned the city, state and national scale.
Optimistic that changes could come, the Neighborhood Watch Chair advocated for continued reporting of area crimes, so when there are more police officers, the need for their presence in Bird Rock would be apparent. “You can make reports online, and when funding does become available, the way officers will be allocated will be based on those reports. Even if it’s something small that gets stolen, file a report because it’s still a crime that occurred. If we don’t report it, our stats look like we don’t have crime and we don’t need officers,” she said.
San Diego District 1 City Council candidate Barbara Bry was also at the meeting, and spoke about the evening’s topic, her campaign, and La Jolla issues she would tackle if elected.
Public safety, Bry said, is “the No. 1 responsibility of local government” and she described her plan to recruit and keep officers and dispatchers: “In the short term, we need to get the vacancies filled. In the long term, I would hire MBA students to investigate the best police practices around the country and compare them to what are we’re doing now. Then, I would put together a forum to come up with a plan that suits San Diego.
“Further, we want to make sure children all over San Diego view law enforcement as a good career. I would develop a badge system of public safety through boys and girls clubs that children could start earning from a young age. If elected, I am going to fight to make sure this district gets the resources it deserves.”
In other BRCC news:
Congressmember Scott Peters will attend the next BRCC meeting, 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 4 at the La Jolla Masonic Lodge, 5655 La Jolla Blvd. to answer constituents’ questions. birdrockcc.org