At the June 15 Half Moon Bay City Council Meeting, Harvey Rarback submitted a motion for a “new model for policing and public safety, with accountability to the people of Half Moon Bay” that would create a new Half Moon Bay Public Safety Department. Most significantly, this would fundamentally restructure existing safety and police resources and create a Half Moon Bay Public Safety director/chief of police role.

The specific proposals include creation of at least four separate divisions under the director. (Note: the information in the parentheses indicates potential sharing of resources.)

Officer-involved Use of Force Investigations Division: would report directly to the chief of police and would investigate any use of force incidents within Half Moon Bay.

Emergency Services Division with four separate subdivisions, Mental Health Emergencies (city/county), Domestic Violence Emergencies (city/county), Homeless Outreach Emergencies (city/county), Armed Responses Division (San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office).

Community Services Division, with six subdivisions, Traffic Enforcement (Half Moon Bay), Crime Reporting (Half Moon Bay), rape counselors (city/county), criminal investigators (Sheriff’s Office and district attorney’s office), beach safety (city/county), citizen complaint hotline (city).

Dispatch Services Division (detail not provided).

The motion proposed a new police chief hired by end of year, and a job description by end of July.

While I support the general concept of community resourcing for assisting with mental illness and homelessness within a community, I have major concerns about this specific proposal:

- First, there is no budget analysis and insufficient citizen input. I object to the City Council voting on a motion without offering details about staffing and related costs. This needs consideration of alternatives and options and proper budgetary analysis. The community must be involved. It is not OK for the City Council to rush this.

- Applying large-city solutions to small-town characteristics is a mistake. Half Moon Bay still is a relatively small town, with many rural Coastside characteristics. It seems essential to share resources with other coastal communities rather than creating our own separate resources. It also seems essential to look to smaller community models rather than big city models of resource allocation.

- There is not enough budget to go around. The proposal suggests funding this from the $2.4 million paid for the equivalent of eight full-time deputies. The math does not add up. Other city resourcing programs typically divert 10 to 25 percent of police funds. For Half Moon Bay, a police budget of $4 million means $400,000 to $1 million. Diverting from the scarce Sheriff’s budget at best would be about $240,000 to $600,000. It seems wildly optimist to be able to fund all of these roles and also pay for separate Sheriff’s Office services.

- Duplication of county resources. The Jimenez-Rarback proposals duplicate some resources the Sheriff already has — though it does not look like they have been reflected in the proposals. For example, the Sheriff’s Office already has a Psychiatric Emergency Response Team.

- There is a lack of Sheriff input. The proposal assumes the Sheriff’s Office would be willing to partition support. This seems unlikely given the potential finger-pointing and/or liability issues. (As but one example, the coordination of 911 calls can get quite complicated.)

- And remember liability issues. We should remain sensitive to reducing police shootings of civilians. However, we should also make sure that the restructuring efforts don’t put unarmed community responders in harm’s way.

Given our population and budget, it makes no sense for Half Moon Bay to go it alone. There must be collaboration on the Coastside, preferably with other cities on the Peninsula. How can the city vote for these proposals before exploring collaboration efforts? There is no silver bullet here. We are going to have to pick and choose carefully.

Suzan Suer is a resident of Half Moon Bay.

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(1) comment

Suzanne Black

Sharp critique and good ideas, especially your focus on collaboration across the Coastside communities. Thanks for opening and promoting discussion.

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