San Diego County, California, is unique. In less than an hour, you can travel from desert to mountains to the Pacific Ocean. It is a beautiful area, but beauty does not stop the crime that has only accelerated because of the economy’s downturn. Luxury homes that once sold for a cool million sit vacant and abandoned, many now almost half their value. The rise in foreclosures and drop in property values has hit everyone here, and the result is the same everywhere you go: government coffers run low and budget cuts follow. At the same time, the demand for government services is rising due to the same economic factors.
San Diego County also sits on the southwest border between the United States and Mexico, with the city of Tijuana just across the fence, comprising one of the epicenters in the war on drugs and a spawning ground for cross-border crime.
Just a few miles north of that border resides the city of Chula Vista. Here, there is an older, well-established portion of the community that goes from San Diego Bay on the west and stretches eastward, until it hits the new areas of the early 2000s boom developments. This area has been hit harder than most. People came here to buy a home during the housing boom—but now that those times are gone, the city’s budget has also gone with them.
Boom And Bust
Budget considerations aside, the citizens of the area hold their Chula Vista Police in high regard, and the CVPD continues to enjoy a high rate of citizen approval.
But now the agency is now seeing an increase in criminal activity from cross-border violence, with increased kidnappings and other crimes. Many of the suspects come from Mexico. Officers are receiving specialized training in how to look for these cross-border connections to better deal with this emerging issue. The officers are also seeing other issues, such as gang violence and drug crimes.
The Chula Vista Police Department expanded rapidly to deal with the explosion in growth from the 1990s and mid 2000s. It now comprises slightly more than 230 sworn personnel, and is an agency that would be the envy of any city with a mid-size department. The Chief is just retiring after being in command for more than 17 years, and is still highly regarded by everyone I spoke to.
The CVPD protects the second largest incorporated population in San Diego County, an area of about 50 square miles. (It ranks third in agency size, only behind the San Diego PD and the San Diego SO.) As any such police agency, they have patrol, investigative and various task-force positions to meet the needs of the citizens they serve.
One thing I noticed about the CVPD right away is their ability to think outside the box when there it benefits them to deviate from conventional policing strategies. While budget woes have caused many agencies to pull personnel from specialized units, the CVPD has taken a different approach. Captain Leonard Miranda says that they see personnel in these positions as a vital part of keeping up with the continuing violence in Mexico. Intelligence and information in an area of cross-border violence can mean the difference between closing cases and seeing them go cold. Such task forces allow Chula Vista’s police to better know whom the players are and what they are up to, thus enhancing public safety in the region.
As for counter terrorism, there is the usual high level of preparedness that is the “new normal” for us in law enforcement. All officers are trained in Level-C Hazmat gear as well as LERT (Law Enforcement and Regulatory Training). SWAT is also in preparation to be set up in Level-B Hazmat equipment.
One of the most impressive and visible signs of the CVPD is their new home. They recently had a new, state-of-the-art headquarters built. This building is a very functional police services building that looks first rate as well. As you enter, there is a lobby that, while secure, allows for easy access by the public with nearby records and meeting rooms. Below is a modern lead-free range, and inside, the department staffs its own prisoner-holding facilities. In my opinion, this building is the one that sets the mark for police headquarters in our San Diego County.