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Police, fire and lifeguard officials give La Jolla tips and updates

San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit (left) and Northern Division Capt. Scott Wahl speak Sept. 9.
San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit (left) and Northern Division Capt. Scott Wahl speak during the La Jolla Town Council’s public safety forum Sept. 9.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

As summer crowds ebb and fire season heats up, La Jolla residents heard from four San Diego public safety leaders about how officials are working to increase service and what locals can do to assist their efforts.

The La Jolla Town Council’s virtual meeting Sept. 9, its first meeting since June, presented San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit, Police Department Northern Division Capt. Scott Wahl, San Diego Fire Chief Colin Stowell and Fire-Rescue Department Lifeguard Division Chief James Gartland.

San Diego Police Department

Nisleit said the Police department is 84 officers short of full staffing, though he said that when he took on the role of chief in March 2018, the department was short by 250 officers. “We’re clicking away at that,” he said.

He said January through June saw an 18.8 percent increase in violent crimes, noting there has been an increase in violence along some area beaches.

Police captain says seven bystanders have been shot since July and it is ‘a miracle that nobody has been killed’

Nisleit said the department is handling 28,000 to 30,000 calls a week, an increase over the usual 25,000 weekly calls of the past two years.

He said arrests are up 18 percent. “We are making a dent in the crime that’s being committed, but we’re still seeing a lot of crime,” Nisleit said.

Wahl said that of the 11 beats in the department’s Northern Division, which contains 250,000 residents, La Jolla is second in call volume, behind Pacific Beach.

Currently, Wahl said, the division’s staffing is split equally between inland and coastal communities, but the coastal areas account for 60 percent of the calls. He added that he’s working to have the workforce reflect the imbalance.

Wahl said he also will increase staffing during busy call times to decrease response time. Providing “high-quality services … is really my focus,” he said.

Addressing a resident’s question about how residents can help, Nisleit said, “I like to talk about victims making their own luck.”

“Criminals are opportunists,” he said, adding that residents should take care to remove personal belongings from cars and plain view. “That will go a long way in helping us.”

If someone does become a victim of a crime, providing police officers with information like the serial number of a stolen bicycle is helpful, Nisleit said.

“If you see something suspicious ... you need to call us. … We really rely on the community to be our eyes and ears,” he added.

Nisleit said “one of the biggest complaints that we get throughout the city is the speeding, the traffic. … We are trying to put an emphasis on that.” He encouraged residents to continue reporting traffic violations.

Wahl said that “when you have more people coming in to the beach areas, there’s no question that we’re going to have a higher amount of accidents and pedestrian accidents.”

“We want police officers active in focusing on traffic as a top concern,” Wahl said. He added that complaints to the department do “result in a police response.”

San Diego Fire-Rescue Department and Lifeguard Division

San Diego Fire-Rescue Department Chief Colin Stowell, left, and Lifeguard Division Chief James Gartland
San Diego Fire Chief Colin Stowell (left) and Lifeguard Division Chief James Gartland discuss department updates at the Sept. 9 La Jolla Town Council meeting.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Stowell said the Fire-Rescue Department often fields 600 to 700 calls per day, with a 14 percent increase in the past month.

He attributed the increase to “everybody was coming out of COVID … 86 percent of our calls are medical-related and traffic accidents.”

“We are obviously being very challenged right now on a couple of fronts” — understaffing and wildfire season, Stowell said.

The staffing shortages mean the department is not able to send the usual amount of support to fight fires in Northern California, as “we’ve got to be able to staff our [local] fire stations, we’ve got to be able to protect our communities,” he said.

Stowell said Southern California has been very fortunate so far. “We have not had the [wildfire] activity that we would typically see at this time of the year.”

He said he expects September through November to bring challenges because of the recent dry, hot weather.

He urged residents to visit sandiego.gov/fire to download the “Ready, Set, Go!” guide, which contains information on how to stay informed about current fire conditions, clearing space to defend against fires and evacuating in case of a fire.

“Evacuation is critical,” Stowell said. “I can only encourage all the residents to take advantage of evacuating as soon as possible anytime they get the notice right at the warning stage.”

Stowell said Mount Soledad, particularly its east side, is “one of the most critical areas that we have concerns for.” Fires burn faster on a steep slope, he said, plus the area contains much dry brush and evacuation routes are narrow and limited.

He encouraged residents to clear more than the recommended 100 feet of defensible space and added that “we continue to work with our state legislators on changing some [environmental] regulations because frankly, they’re not in line with what our message is” about creating defensible space.

Gartland said area beaches never experienced an offseason this year, as the COVID-19 pandemic meant people stayed home and went to the beach.

He said Wahl’s staffing model for increased police presence on the beach is instrumental in allowing lifeguards “the ability to focus on the water and water safety.”

Though specific numbers were not yet available, Gartland said La Jolla lifeguards were on track to perform about 1,000 water rescues during the busiest summer months.

He said the Lifeguard Division has started recruiting both for next summer’s seasonal staff and for full-time positions.

Next meeting

The La Jolla Town Council next meets at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 14. The location is not yet known. Learn more at lajollatowncouncil.org.