Half Moon Bay has joined the growing list of California cities that have abolished their municipal police forces in order to fill gaping budget gaps. On Saturday, the City Council voted unanimously to shut down their police department and give the city manager the authority to contract with the San Mateo Sheriff's Department for law enforcement services. The council hopes the transfer of duties will save the city at least $500,000.
Mayor Naomi Patridge told the San Francisco Chronicle after the vote:
"It was tough; very, very tough. I've lived here all my life, and the Police Department has been important. A police department is really, truly an identity for a city."
Residents don't seem to agree. In November, voters rejected a sales tax hike designed to help fund the struggling department whose numbers have been decreased by 20 percent since 2009. A steep lawsuit settlement by the city in 2008 over development rights and a decline in tourism and sales tax revenue led to those cuts.
As it stood last week, Half Moon Bay's police department employed 12 people. This did not include a single detective or an officer to ride one of the two traffic enforcement motorcycles owned by the city. If there is any indication of how broke Half Moon Bay is, there is the fact that interim Police Chief Lee Violett – a proponent of the department's dissolution – had to work part-time.
The decision to outsource Half Moon Bay's policing authority has been months in the making. The council had solicited bids from every law enforcement agency in the county, including the California Highway Patrol. Two offers were forthcoming: one from the Sheriff's Department and another from Pacifica Police Department – almost 15 miles north on Highway 1. When pension and animal control costs were considered, making a deal with the Sheriff's dept. was the only money-saving route, said Violett. Half Moon Bay officers can retain their jobs under the contract but must first pass standardized tests.
Violett maintains that contracting with the Sheriff would not only save money but provide the city with greater law enforcement resources while maintaining quick response times to high-priority calls. Half Moon Bay was incorporated in 1959. Ironically, this was done in large part so the fledgling city could provide its own policing services.