Rethinking policing

Photo courtesy San Mateo County Sheriff's Office

The Half Moon Bay City Council on Tuesday announced its intention to extend its contract with the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office for at least the next two years. The council says the move signals its willingness to work with the Sheriff’s Office while anticipating potential leadership changes. It comes as the city looks to increase services like community policing, deputy training and mental health assistance. 

Over the past year, the City Council has indicated it wants the Sheriff’s Office to continue its law enforcement duties on the Coastside to save money and retain county support. But the city’s current contract with the Sheriff’s Office makes it difficult for the city to enforce any changes. 

One key consideration for the council was the upcoming county sheriff election set for June 2022. With Sheriff Carlos Bolanos up for reelection in June 2022, the council decided to continue paying for the county’s law enforcement while it awaits an outcome that could determine how it structures its requests for additional services. 

“It also gives the Sheriff’s Office a vote of confidence that we believe they will incorporate some of our suggestions,” Councilmember Deborah Penrose said. “I don’t know that the current sheriff is going to be in office a year from now, so we could have a new sheriff and we’ll have to deal with them.” 

For the two-year arrangement to go into effect, the county needs to agree to the deal by Sept. 30. The deal, which pays for Sheriff’s deputies in the city through June 30, 2024, breaks from the norm for the two governing bodies. The city’s first deal with the Sheriff’s Office in 2011 was a five-year contract for $2.28 million per year. The city has exercised two three-year deals since then, one in 2016 and 2019. Each year the contract accounts for benefits and an increase in the cost of living expenses. The city is paying $3.3 million to the Sheriff’s Office this year, and the contract allows the city to negotiate for additional services at any time. 

The two-year agreement was one of three options the council weighed. The others included a three-year deal or a deal with no fixed term. The current contract is structured so that services to the city would end the first day of July at least 12 months after written notice, meaning that the time between the written intent to end the contract and the actual termination from the Sheriff varies between one and two years. 

Councilmembers Penrose and Joaquin Jimenez and Mayor Robert Brownstone voted for the two-year deal. Vice Mayor Debbie Ruddock wanted to go with a three-year deal, citing the benefits of locking down costs for a longer period and the lack of reasonable alternative law enforcement options.

“I’d rather have stable, long-term costs and work with the Sheriff’s Office to negotiate terms that are favorable,” Ruddock said. “I’m not interested in going back to having our own police department or contract with somebody else’s police department.”

Councilmember Harvey Rarback wanted a deal with no fixed term. By using the termination clause as a way to end the deal, it’s essentially a one-to-two-year contract. But the agreement requires action from either party to cancel the contract, not extend it, Nisbet said. 

Rarback said that providing no finalized end date would allow the city more flexibility to request changes in the contract that reflect goals of the Jimenez-Rarback Report on Policing and Public Safety In Half Moon Bay, which aims to change how deputies could enforce traffic laws and create a police chief to act as a liaison between the city and the county. 

Sheriff Bolanos told the City Council months ago he was unwilling to accept the recommendations of the report, citing safety concerns for his deputies. But during the creation of the city’s 2021-2022 Public Safety Work Plan, the Sheriff’s Office indicated it was open to discussing possible modifications for the city.

Jimenez reiterated his desire to get a deal that would give the city a representative to report to the Sheriff’s Office and get more deputies involved in community events to make them feel like they know the residents better, and vice versa. 

“We want to tell our Sheriff’s department we’re interested in working with them,” Jimenez said. “Let’s find a common ground and ask, ‘What services that we’re requesting can you provide for our community? How can we collaborate better to help our community feel safe?’”

August Howell is a staff writer for the Review covering city government and public safety. Previously, he was the Review’s community, arts and sports reporter. He studied journalism at the University of Oregon.

(1) comment

Sabrina Brennan

Disappointing that the City of HMB hasn't developed a better solution by now.

Based on Carlos Bolanos' crooked (SAL) and racist (ICE transfers) performance it is unethical for cities to contract with him for law enforcement services.

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