Following cuts, law enforcement collaborates to cover the coast

02/10/2021

Law enforcement agencies are cooperating to make sure West Marin is still covered despite the closure of the sheriff’s Point Reyes substation from 11 p.m. to 11 a.m. since last July. The California Highway Patrol, the National Park Service and the Marin County Sheriff’s Office are making adjustments to their staffing strategies and mentalities, but a void still exists during the night. Still, no major incidents have happened since the closure.

“Most of the calls that have come in have been handled over the telephone, although we have responded to a handful of them,” Sheriff Robert Doyle said.

The sheriff said he still aims to patrol the coast for 24 hours a day, but in an interview this week he pushed back the date for the third time. When the substation first closed in July, he said the hours would be reinstated in the fall, when 14 deputies graduated from the police academy. Later, in the fall, he said the substation would reopen in January, after the deputies completed patrol training in southern Marin. On Monday, he told the Light it won’t be until the spring because exposure to Covid-19 and retirements have challenged staffing, and the overtime shifts that used to cover the substation are costly and take a toll on employees

In the meantime, deputies have restarted patrols of the coast from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. on days when enough people are on duty. This morning window is when the bulk of calls come in during the 12-hour substation closure. During the night, the nearest deputy is on patrol out of substations in Marin City, Mill Valley or Kentfield, which cover the San Geronimo Valley and Muir Beach.

The sheriff’s office does not track how long it takes deputies to respond to calls on the coast, so it is unknown if, and by how much, response times have slowed over the past six months. Part of Sheriff Doyle’s reasoning for closing the substation is that whether or not it’s open, deputies could be many miles away because of the length of the coast.

Law enforcement agencies in West Marin are fortunate to have a close relationship with each other. The park service polices the seashore, the highway patrol covers vehicle-related offenses, and the sheriff’s office is responsible for crimes against people or property. When one agency can’t respond, another can step in. The National Park Service has a memorandum of understanding with the sheriff to respond to calls when deputies are not around, and the California Highway Patrol uses the same emergency radio system, so officers and deputies can easily communicate. 

“We’ve made a concerted effort to increase our presence out in West Marin, even before the sheriff cut back their hours, just because it’s needed,” officer Andrew Barclay said.

Because the beat has been prioritized, at least one California Highway Patrol covers the coast south of Nick’s Cove from 5 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., and more officers patrol on the weekends. Officers from Santa Rosa cover Tomales, Dillon Beach and Chileno Valley, and at night, the closest officer is around Highway 101.

Officers Casey Russell and Darrel Horner are dedicated to West Marin, a shift in recent years that allows them to begin patrols right at 5 a.m. rather than starting at the office in Corte Madera for an assignment. 

“It makes it a lot better because people know they’re going to deal with the same [officer]. It allows continuity of enforcement. These officers know what is going on, they know the area and they know the people,” Mr. Barclay said.

Within his agency, Mr. Barclay said that he’s heard from other highway patrol officers that the relationship with local law enforcement is not always as strong as it is in West Marin. The Marin Emergency Radio Authority system allows them to communicate with each other rather than just listen, so they often respond to each other’s calls. 

The National Park Service also does not operate 24 hours, though rangers are informally available for after-hours calls. During the day, at least two visitor and resource protection rangers patrol the seashore, and usually a shift has four to six rangers. At night, rangers who live in the park could respond to an emergency.

“If we’re tasked with being called out more at night, that’s something we are more than willing to help with,” ranger John Eleby said. “Our mindset is, ‘Let’s support our neighbors.’”

Any conversation involving Sheriff Doyle comes with the subtext that an election race is underway to replace him. Undersheriff Jamie Scardina is facing off against Novato city manager Adam McGill, also the city’s former police chief. Both candidates were asked about the substation closure, and they gave divergent answers.

Mr. Scardina’s response aligned with Sheriff Doyle’s talking points: Call volume is low, most calls are not emergencies, it’s common for other rural areas to not have 24-hour patrol, and without the change, the nearest deputy could still be far away.

Mr. McGill said he would always fully staff the patrol shift. “If we have to compromise in other areas because of budget, or people are out injured or on vacations or training or whatever the situation is, it doesn’t come from the patrol side. People need to feel safe in their communities,” he said.