In response to the nationwide protests demanding an end to police brutality and systematic racism, the Half Moon Bay City Council hosted a forum last week to start a conversation about San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office practices.

Since 2011, the city has contracted with the Sheriff’s Office for law enforcement services. An effort to save money after the city faced financial crisis, the contract outlines services provided to the city. Public safety accounts for about 30 percent of the city’s expenditures in the Fiscal Year 2020-21 budget. Last year, the city spent about $3.5 million on Sheriff’s services, the majority of which is spent on salaries and cost of living adjustment expenses. The current contract with the Sheriff’s Office expires in 2022.

The conversation on June 16 focused primarily on dealing with people with mental health issues. Two highly publicized incidents that occurred on the Coastside were mentioned — the shooting death of 18-year-old Yanira Serrano in 2014, and that of 56-year-old Sandra Harmon in May of this year. Both women suffered mental health issues and were killed by Sheriff’s Office deputies after an exchange with law enforcement.

Half Moon Bay Realtor Nate Serdy said he couldn’t support defunding the police. Rather, he believes more resources should be allocated for responses to mental health crises.

Similarly, Half Moon Bay resident David Eblovi was also advocating for more mental health resources to take the burden off the police in responding to such incidents.

“We have a problem. If Yanira Serrano was a misfortunate, Sandy Harmon was a failure,” he said. “… Let’s try to put solutions in place to prevent these incidents from happening again.”

Sheriff’s Capt. Saul Lopez said there were more than 40 mental health cases in Half Moon Bay reported to the Sheriff’s Office last year. He said all deputies receive crisis intervention training and the Sheriff’s Office also has its own Psychiatric Emergency Response Team designed to assist with mental health cases.

Still, many of the public speakers said that is not enough. They called for more resources on the Coastside that do not involve armed law enforcement.

City Councilwoman Deborah Penrose said the city will host another community meeting to continue the discussion.

“I would like to hold a study session where we can invite the community and experts to come in,” she said. “It is imperative for us to deal with this serious situation.”

Councilwoman Debbie Ruddock suggested empowering a committee to review the Sheriff’s contract with the city.

“Our institutions are broken. We’ve loaded up law enforcement to solve our social problems,” she said. “What I believe is, we work with the police now and make that better, and at the same time we have to invest in social services.”

She also mentioned the city approved $200,000 worth of funding for several nonprofits some of which are aimed at assisting people with mental health issues on the Coastside.

The council voted to create an ad hoc committee, of Councilman Harvey Rarback and Penrose, to pore over the Sheriff’s contract with city staff.

“It makes sense we have a committee to take a deeper look at the contract so when the amendment comes up it’s been more closely vetted,” City Manager Bob Nisbet said. “So they understand the policies and what flexibility we have.”

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