The city of San Carlos will soon be without its own police force for the first time in 85 years.
On Nov. 1, the city’s 26 sworn officers and 34 other full-time employees — along with police equipment and facilities — will become part of the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office, which is taking over law enforcement for San Carlos. The county Board of Supervisors approved a five-year agreement with the city at a meeting last week.
Although the city will pay $4.5 million in the first year alone, the deal is viewed as a necessary cost-savings step. Facing a severe budget deficit, San Carlos officials estimate they could save $2.1 million a year by contracting with the Sheriff’s Office. Several cash-strapped cities in the Los Angeles recently have taken similar action and others in California are studying it. “This new model may be the wave of the future,” San Carlos Police Chief Greg Rothaus said.
“It is just going to be fiscally irresponsible not to,” said Lt. Tom Gallagher of the Sheriff’s Office.
By switching to the Sheriff’s Office, San Carlos officers will receive pay raises; the city’s police department had been one of the lowest-paying in the San Francisco Bay Area. Under the agreement, the officers are required to go through Sheriff’s training courses, including 56 hours to prepare for working in the county jail.
Contracting police services to the county is a concern for many San Carlos residents. The city’s police station will continue as a substation for the Sheriff’s Office, but with fewer officers patrolling an area where crime has increased 25 percent in the past year. Residents also worry about the possibility of slower police response times to 911 calls.
On deeper a level, there is the loss of civic identity and the pain of change. “Getting people to wrap their minds around that, both for the community and the department, was really rough,” Rothaus said.
San Mateo County Sheriff Greg Munks has tried to assure San Carlos residents that there will be no change in quality or speed of law enforcement. The Sheriff’s Office has several programs — including those that provide school resource officers and D.A.R.E., drug-abuse resource education — that were too expensive for the San Carlos city department to fund.
This is the first time the San Mateo Sheriff’s Office has absorbed a city police department.