By Joe Tash
As a college student, Robert Haley majored in math and played football, and intended to become a teacher and coach. But all that changed when he went for a ride-along with Oceanside police more than 30 years ago.
He found the experience so exciting that he began to think about a career in law enforcement.
“That kind of got the ball rolling,” said Haley, who was recently promoted to the rank of captain in the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department and took over in January as head of the department’s Encinitas office.
In his new role, Haley, 51, is essentially the chief of police for the cities of Encinitas, Solana Beach and Del Mar — which contract with the Sheriff’s Department for police protection — as well as unincorporated areas such as Rancho Santa Fe.
Haley has spent the past three weeks getting to know people in the communities he now serves, from city officials to school superintendents to members of local public safety committees and service groups.
He embraces the department’s philosophy of using computer-generated crime data to focus resources on problem areas, called “intelligence-led policing,” and also believes it is important to find out what the community wants from its law enforcement agency.
While he and his colleagues may have ideas of where to focus their efforts based on their own knowledge and experience, community members have other priorities, said Haley.
“We serve them, it’s imperative to get their feedback,” he said of community residents.
To that end, Haley said, he’s happy to talk with residents who call or stop by the Encinitas station at 175 North El Camino Real.
Among the issues high on his radar as he begins his new assignment, said Haley, is dealing with a significant number of alcohol-related drives, such as driving under the influence. The area served by the Encinitas station has the highest number of DUIs — just under 600 per year — of any Sheriff’s Department command, Haley said.
Deputies are working with local businesses that serve alcohol, the state department of Alcoholic Beverage Control and even interviewing offenders to determine the reasons behind this statistic, so the problem can be addressed, Haley said.
“These people live within five miles of where they’re stopped, so they could get a $30 cab ride instead of getting in their car and driving home,” Haley said. Those convicted of a DUI charge face costs totaling around $15,000, including court costs, fines and hikes to their insurance, he said.
Another unique aspect to the community, said Haley, is a large number of special events, from the San Diego County Fair to athletic events such as triathlons.
The office is actively working on a series of school burglaries in which I-pads and other items were taken. The burglars were from Riverside County; one has been caught and other arrests are expected, Haley said.
Car and home burglaries are another area of concern. “There’s a little spike there and we’re working on it,” Haley said. One element of his approach is to educate people to keep valuables such as computers, cameras and purses out of sight, rather than leaving them unprotected and visible in their cars.
Haley is now in his 28th year in law enforcement. He began his career with the County Marshal’s Office, which had such responsibilities as courtroom security and arresting fugitives. The office merged with the Sheriff’s Department in 2000, and since then, Haley has held a number of roles, from supervising offices in Alpine and Fallbrook, to working in the recruiting and hiring of new deputies.
One of his favorite assignments was working in the fugitive unit. He recalled one case where a man wanted on a drug-related warrant ran from his house. Haley chased the man on foot for two miles, jumping over back yard fences, and even barbed wire, before commandeering a car and capturing the fugitive.
He also commandeered a golf cart in the midst of another pursuit.
Deputies used ruses ranging from promises of lottery winnings to Super Bowl tickets to lure people wanted on warrants. “We catch them sooner or later, being diligent and talking to lots of people,” he said.
Haley, whose wife works with the County Counsel’s office, is an “empty nester” now that one of his sons left for college in Iowa on a football scholarship and another son joined the U.S. Coast Guard.
When he’s not at work, Haley enjoys riding dirt bikes, working out in the gym and playing golf.
He said he made the right choice when he opted for a police cruiser instead of a classroom, because he’s never had a day when he didn’t like his job. And he’s looking forward to his new assignment.
“I feel like I’ve been given a fantastic opportunity here,” he said. “I don’t see challenges that can’t be overcome.”