Bird Rock residents consider private security force in La Jolla

The Bird Rock area has a strong Neighborhood Watch program that regularly provides safety updates at the Bird Rock Community Council (BRCC) meetings. Unfortunately, it’s a program bred from necessity. Often reporting suspicious persons and people “casing” the neighborhood, residents have long-heard casers and thefts are considered “low priority” calls by the over-worked San Diego Police Department.

In the last few months, burglaries and car break-ins have been reported, which some blame on a lack of police presence. So BRCC member Ron Fineman requested a presentation on private security for the neighborhood, which took place June 30 at Chase Bank.

“There has been a lot of chatter on about thefts in the area. We’ve heard a lot about residential burglaries, commercial burglaries and vehicle theft,” he said. “If you like what you hear or think there is a better way, speak up and come to the BRCC meetings.”

Recommending National Public Safety as a private firm with which to contract, he introduced CEO Douglas Frost at the meeting.

Originally from Detroit, Frost said he moved to San Diego in 1996 and attended the San Diego Police Academy. But when no one was hiring, he started National Public Safety. “We are statewide, from here to Sacramento, ocean to desert. We have all the tools that local law enforcement have,” Frost told the gathering. “What we end up doing is taking the low priority calls so police officers don’t have to … because they are understaffed and just don’t have the resources. So let them deal with the felonies and let us have the low priority calls.”

Although “not every officer likes the private sector,” Frost reported a good relationship with SDPD. “I see it as a big-brother/little-brother relationship. We evaluate a situation and once it gets to a certain point (such as someone needing to be arrested or taken to jail), then we call big brother,” he explained. “When we have something, they know it’s legitimate because we don’t call them unless we’ve confirmed the situation and they need to get involved. We do all the background work and hand things over to them in a nice little package.”

Public safety officers are often Police Academy graduates, former law enforcement or military, Frost said, and they undergo extensive training. In addition to the State of California standards they have to meet to obtain firearms, they’re required to complete an additional 40 hours of training each year. The firm also requires time with a field training officer and in a Firearms Training Simulator, where shoot/no-shoot simulations are run. Although he’s had to draw his weapon, Frost said he has never had to fire it.

Contrary to oft-criticized wait times associated with San Diego Police, Frost said his firm has never had a complaint. “We have a 24-hour dispatch center with 29 lines, and we use a computer-automated dispatch, so you call in and say there is someone suspicious in the neighborhood, and we arrive quickly. We ask the person how he or she is doing to get a sense for why they’re around and get a visual on the person.”

Added sales director Bianca Jones, “As you call in, and a dispatcher is taking your call, they are typing (the details) into our system and that goes to the officers directly, so they can be on route while you are still on the phone.”

Because the patrol area would be much smaller than the San Diego Police Department’s, Frost said officers can get to know a community and its needs. “We learn about Mrs. Jones who keeps her porch light on every night, so if we see the porch light out, we look into whether it was burned out or unscrewed. That’s what we’re trained to do,” he said. “We use stats to adjust our coverage, so if one area has a lot of problems, we focus on that area. We’re here to give a sense of calm and security, but we’re not going to stop everything. I can’t say we’re going to put a bubble over Bird Rock and everything is going to be perfect. I need your help, put our number on speed dial to call our dispatch.”

Already in Ocean Beach and at the San Diego County Fair, Frost said his department uses bikes, vehicles, horseback and foot traffic to have a presence in the community, and that visibility deters criminal activity.

Ocean Beach Main Street Executive Director Denny Knox said, “We’ve been really pleased with their efforts so far. We only had a three-month contract at first, but we’ve extended it twice. They get the vibe as far as how the community works, which is really good. It’s been nice to have them to take care of the little Quality of Life issues that mount up.”

Facing issues like large groups showing up and aggressive panhandling, Knox said, “We felt our community was being taken over. There was a public outcry to do something. We contracted with National Public Safety and we’re really happy.”

— Bird Rock residents interested in the patrol are encouraged to e-mail or attend BRCC meetings, 6 p.m. first Tuesdays at locations TBD. The cost of the patrol service and who would pay for it was not determined at the initial meeting.

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