Serving with Integrity
The San Marcos Sheriff’s Station was established in 1993 to allow the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department to better serve San Marcos and surrounding areas. The station serves the City of San Marcos as well as unincoporated areas of San Marcos and Escondido. From deputies to professional staff to volunteers, everyone at the station is dedicated to the Sheriff’s Department mission of providing the highest quality public safety services. We spoke with Captain Michael McClain to learn more.
Q&A with Captain Michael McClain
How long has the San Marcos Station been in operation, and what kinds of changes have occurred since it opened?
The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department has provided contract law enforcement services to the City of San Marcos since its incorporation in 1963. In 1993, the San Marcos Substation split from the Sheriff’s Vista Command to become its own fully operational station with a captain as the commanding officer.
In April 2001, the staff vacated the original location at 187 Santar Pl. and moved across the street into the built-to-suit station at the San Marcos Public Safety Training Center. Its current location is 182 Santar Pl.
What is the San Marcos Station’s mission?
Our mission is to provide highest quality public safety services to the residents and visitors of the San Marcos area.
Each day, we employ a staff of over 35 people to serve our communities by handling calls for service, responding to emergencies, and conducting investigative follow-ups. We apprehend known criminals for identified offenses and work with various community partners to enhance safety by reducing the number of crime victims through heightened crime prevention measures.
What areas does the San Marcos Station serve?
The station has a total service area of over 100 square miles, which encompasses the City of San Marcos and the surrounding unincorporated areas of San Marcos and Escondido, to include the communities of Lake San Marcos, Elfin Forest, Harmony Grove, Lake Hodges, San Pasqual Valley, Hidden Meadows, Ivy Del, and others.
What is your role at the station?
As the captain, I fill the role of “Police Chief” for the City of San Marcos. I also have oversight responsibility for all the surrounding unincorporated areas served by the San Marcos Station and Valley Center Substation.
The Valley Center Substation covers over an additional 330 square miles and includes the communities of Pala, Pauma and Rincon Valleys, Palomar Mountain, Rancho Guejito Ranch, and La Jolla, Pala, Pauma, Rincon, and San Pasqual Indian reservations.
Three lieutenants (two in San Marcos and one in Valley Center) assist with the overall administration of 24/7 law enforcement and public safety services for the larger San Marcos Command Area.
What is your professional background, and how did it lead you to your current position?
In December 1993, I graduated from the Law Enforcement Regional Academy at the San Diego Regional Public Safety Training Institute at Miramar College and was sworn in as a deputy sheriff. My first operational assignment was at the newly-opened George Bailey Detentions Facility. By May 1995, I was assigned to the “original” San Marcos Station at 187 Santar Pl. For seven years, I served the citizens of the San Marcos Command as a Patrol Deputy, Training Officer, Community Oriented Policing and Problem Solving (COPPS) Deputy, a Corporal, and as Area Investigator (Detective). I responded to general calls for law enforcement services and had the opportunity to handle a variety of investigations and carry out numerous specialized enforcement tasks.
In 2002, I was promoted to sergeant and assigned to the Vista Detention Facility (VDF). Along with two fellow sergeants, I supervised a large staff of deputies who were responsible for facility security and providing for the basic needs of incarcerated persons.
From 2003 until 2007, I completed supervisory assignments at the Encinitas Station. In addition to handling general calls for service, I was also offered the opportunity to help develop departmental response plans for potential terrorist attacks at facilities like the San Onofre Nuclear Generator Station and the County Fairgrounds/Racetrack in Del Mar. I participated in simulated terrorist attacks, train derailments, mass casualty events, and natural disasters.
When I was promoted to lieutenant in 2007, I was assigned to the Sheriff’s Communications Center. As a watch commander, my job was to work with supervisors and managers at local station commands to assist with resource allocation for large scale events and to communicate preliminary information to news outlets.
My next assignment was to the Vista Courthouse in 2009. As the facility commander, I was responsible for ensuring security for the physical structure of the courthouse and for the assigned court staff, as well as for ensuring the orderly temporary custody transfer of inmates from detention facilities to court rooms and back on a daily basis.
In 2010, I returned to the San Marcos Station as the patrol division commander. I was responsible for proper deployment of approximately 50 patrol deputies to calls for service and emergency incidents. It was during this time period that I experienced a once-in-a-career event, which later became known as the “Escondido Bomb House.” In a small pocket of unincorporated Escondido, just outside the city limits of San Marcos and immediately adjacent to Interstate 15, the leasing occupant of the affected residence had spent a large amount of undetected time creating enough explosives (HMTD) to potentially destroy an entire neighborhood, along with a good portion of Interstate 15. This event spanned over a month and was the largest discovery of homemade explosives on American soil at the time. Working with teams of experts in the field of high explosives and terrorism was invaluable.
Following a short assignment as the substation commander at the Valley Center Substation, I was promoted to captain in 2012. At Valley Center, I gained my first exposure to law enforcement on tribal lands and government-to-government relations.
My first assignment as captain was the Sheriff’s Training Division. I was responsible for oversight of numerous training units that covered training venues from Otay Mesa to Miramar to Vista. In addition, I was appointed the academy commander for the Regional Law Enforcement and Sheriff’s Detentions/Court Services (formerly the Sheriff’s Corrections Academy) Academies.
Two years later, I was assigned to the Sheriff’s newest Station Command in Rancho San Diego (RSD). In addition to oversight and guidance responsibility for the staff at RSD, I had oversight responsibility for the Lemon Grove and Imperial Beach Substations. Each had lieutenants assigned as substation commanders. This eventually led me to my reassignment as the station captain for San Marcos Command in April 2015.
What is the most gratifying aspect, for you, of serving the San Marcos area?
I have always enjoyed my time serving the San Marcos community and have watched it grow responsibly over the past 20 years. The citizens have regularly been very supportive and enjoy having Sheriff’s staff at their special events, responding to calls for service, and in casual contacts.
When I receive feedback from the community that deputies have provided good service and they were helped by our efforts, I experience a feeling of pride and accomplishment. Many people say it’s a cliché that public safety members join their agencies to help people, but I still believe that this is true. I joined the Sheriff’s Department to help prevent people from being victimized by those who prey on the unsuspecting or overly-trusting.
What is a typical day for you like?
Like many people who work as managers of large groups, I start my day reviewing the events of the previous day. I have some responsibility for quality control and give overlying guidance on policy matters and operational direction. I then rely upon the supervisory staff to carry out the implementation of the specific details and to bring forward any pressing concerns.
I serve as the main liaison between the Sheriff and the San Marcos City Manager, and/or the City Council, and respond to any concerns they may have. I also act as liaison to other public agencies and community groups. So, in short, I attend a large number of meetings.
The biggest difference between my day and those of my contemporaries is that I do not know when an emergency may derail my plans. These events can be either manmade or natural disasters and can occur at any time, day or night.
Name of Station: San Marcos Station
Captain: Michael McClain
Zip Codes Served: 92069, 92078, 92027, 92028, 92029
Address: 182 Santar Pl., San Marcos, CA 92069
What challenges do you face in this particular region?
In the San Marcos area, we experience a few different types of public safety challenges. First, we have a very diverse topography. We have some rough terrain with mountainous trails, as well as meadows and fields. This is naturally scenic, but presents serious fire and flooding hazards. In conjunction with the City’s Fire and Public Works Departments, I encourage all home and landowners to take whatever preventative steps they can to reduce threats to their properties and their families. When we wait until the hazards occur, it may be too late for deputies to safely evacuate you from certain areas.
Secondly, San Marcos is centrally located in the North County/Highway 78 traffic corridor. This means we will always have a large amount of vehicles traveling through our city, especially during the peak hours of the day. Avoiding Highway 78 can be a good means of avoiding traffic jams. However, drivers have to remember that many schools are located on major thoroughfares and main tributaries within the City. Many major roadways run immediately adjacent to schools and go up and over the foothills. This means vehicles routinely travel along extended downhill grades and regularly equate to higher speeds.
Speeding is something that every driver has control over. People are really encouraged to leave themselves extra time during the peak traffic periods for safe travel to and from school drop offs, and while commuting to and from work.
Additionally, parents are highly encouraged to consider walking with other parents and children to local schools. This communal walking increases pedestrian visibility, alleviates vehicular traffic during the peak periods, and is generally beneficial to the overall health of our youth.
Do you have any advice for 92078 residents about ensuring their safety?
My primary advice would be the same we give to everyone: be aware of your surroundings. In our post-9/11 world, we do not need to be paranoid, but we have a responsibility to help protect ourselves, our families, and our neighbors from criminal behavior. We do this by knowing our neighbors and reporting unusual or suspicious behavior. 911 is good for reporting emergencies and crimes in progress, but a non-emergency call to the station at 760-510-5200 or to the Sheriff’s Communications Center can help deputies identify those people who are looking for opportunities to commit criminal acts.
A second thought would be to reduce the chances of becoming a victim. When you leave the house unattended, even for short time periods, do you lock the doors and windows and set the alarm? When you park your vehicle, do you leave valuables (i.e. wallets, jewelry, tablets, laptops, cell phones, etc.) in plain sight? Or, do you secure valuables in a locked glove compartment or trunk?
What are the most common types of calls this station responds to?
The most common calls for service are disturbance calls (disputes between family members or neighbors), mental health-related suspicious persons calls, alarm calls, various theft and fraud reports, and traffic-related collisions or speeding/hazardous driver complaints.
Can you tell us about the different units that work out of the station?
The station staff is comprised of the following units: Patrol, COPPS, Traffic, Area Detectives, Crime Prevention, Crime Analysis, Gang and Narcotics Detectives, and professional (clerical support) staff and volunteers. Patrol deputies are staffed around the clock, 365 days a year. They respond to emergencies, as well as general calls for law enforcement and public safety services.
COPPS deputies serve a myriad of assignments, primarily in the City of San Marcos, that involved community-based, quality of life enforcement issues. These problem-solving efforts can take various forms and can be directed towards gang-related issues or chronic neighborhood disputes.
Traffic deputies deploy to various locations within the City and can be either in a marked automobile or motorcycle. Their main purpose is to enhance driving safety at known trouble intersection through directed enforcement, investigation of traffic collisions, and arrests of those who are driving under the influence (DUI).
Area Detectives spend the majority of their time handling investigative follow-ups on crime reports generated by Patrol Deputies. They do conduct some surveillance work and handle some specialized enforcement, but primarily they develop crime cases to the point of arresting the responsible person(s). They also assist the District Attorney’s Office with preparing cases for criminal prosecution.
Crime Prevention Specialists work with members of the community on a variety of tasks, including community events like National Night Out, Neighborhood Watch, Business Watch, and other special presentations. They also do on-site inspections of security features at residences and businesses.
Our Crime Analysts are staff members that have been specially trained in how to extrapolate statistical information and interpret the data to provide the deputies with growing crime trends. They help to identify “prolific offenders,” develop offender profiles, and suggest enforcement strategies for disrupting the trends. They are the central element in the department’s “information-led policing” (ILP) philosophy.
The Gang and Narcotics Detectives are specifically assigned to investigative cases involving known, or suspected, gang members and drug dealers. These detectives are recognized experts in the areas of gang documentation and recognition, as well as recognized experts in narcotics trafficking and sales. They are the lead investigators on most incidents involving these specific types of criminals.
In support of each of these other units, our professional staff members and volunteers work behind the scenes. They handle daily public interactions at the Station’s front counter and on the telephones. They answer procedural questions, provide copies of reports, maintain a secure evidence storage area, and complete generalized, clerical tasks.
Can you tell us about the SVP?
Our largest volunteer group is the Senior Volunteer Patrol (SVP). The SVP currently number around 50 people and handle a variety of daily assignments, including extra patrols of schools, parks, shopping centers, and City Hall. They also conduct vacation checks at residences where people have left for extended periods of time and conduct weekly telephonic or in-person visits with elderly persons in the You Are Not Alone program. Our SVP have been called upon to assist deputies at crime scenes and disaster areas doing perimeter traffic control and other administrative duties.
Our SVP staff is recruiting interested seniors over 50 to join their team. We have links on the Sheriff’s website or anyone can call the station to ask for one of our SVP administrators.
Sheriff’s Station by the Numbers
Population Served: 111,000+
Square Miles Covered: 100+
Number of Sworn Officers: 100+
Number of Civilian Positions: 8
What do you think would most surprise people to learn about the San Marcos Station?
I think most people would be surprised by the large number of calls we receive for those with mental health needs. The Sheriff’s Department, in conjunction with the County’s Health and Human Services (HHS) Department, just increased their staffing of PERT units throughout the County. PERT stands for Psychiatric Emergency Response Team and is comprised of one mental health clinician and a specifically assigned patrol deputy.
In late December 2015, the San Marcos Command received a second PERT unit. This allows the Station to staff a PERT unit seven days a week. PERT units take a primary role at calls for service involving a subject who is believed to be in some form of psychiatric crisis or need. PERT Clinicians are allowed more time to evaluate individuals on scene with protection from their accompanying deputy partner and to determine potential treatment needs. The PERT units arrange for the immediate transportation of the subject to the best care facility available at the time. This is a major change from the days when law enforcement was asked to make these types of determinations on their own without the more extensive clinical training.
In addition to responding to calls for service, PERT units conduct proactive follow-up visits with known patients to ensure they are following treatment recommendations.
What’s in store for the future of the San Marcos Station?
The City of San Marcos will continue to grow in population and diversity. As our student and residential populations grow, so too will our commuter and visitor numbers. The demand for public safety services will continue to increase.
The San Marcos Station has developed good working relationships with the police departments of both the California State University at San Marcos and Palomar College to encourage a regional response to crime trends and public safety needs.
Together, we will collectively continue to utilize ILP tactics to address crime trends and to identify and arrest prolific offenders.
Name: Michael McClain
Community: City of San Marcos and Unincorporated areas of San Marcos and Escondido
Education: B.A. in Political Science from the University of California at Santa Barbara
Family: Wife and four children
Hobbies & Interests: Sports enthusiast and youth sports coach