San Diego Sheriff's Deputy Bill Smith pulls his black-and-white Chevy Tahoe in front of the Dulzura Café. He is stopping a man on a motorcycle who looks like a traffic cop, clad in a black security officer's uniform with shoulder patches and a badge. Smith suggests that it might not be the smartest idea to go riding around dressed like a police officer. As we get in the car, he talks as if he feels sorry for the man. "He's just a private security guard, and they don't have a lot of training, and they don't think like a police officer. When an officer is off duty, the last thing he wants to look like is a cop -- that's making yourself a target."
A National City policeman in the 1970s, Smith has been the resident deputy on the Dulzura beat since 1984. He is responsible for a 200-square-mile area with a population of 900 people, most of whom are white, middle and lower class, with a few upscale exceptions. "My western boundary is Honey Springs Road and Otay Lakes Road; Barrett Lake Road is my east boundary; the top of Barrett Lake is my northern boundary; and the Mexican border, about eight miles to the south, is my southern boundary." Smith works 11-hour shifts, four days a week, but he's on call 24 hours each of those four days.
If any word characterizes the population Smith serves, it's "private." "Most people out here enjoy their privacy. There's a lot of old families that have been here for many years. A lot of them are just retired folks or people who want some breathing room and don't want their neighbor's bathroom window ten feet from theirs. There's some nice houses here, and some people will buy a hilltop and build a nice home on top of it. Then there's a lot of people who live here just because they can afford to. A lot of places are really run-down and rickety, and the residents don't have money to put into their homes. There's an element that comes out here because they want to do things like grow drugs or cook drugs, and they don't want neighbors nearby either, but that's a pretty small element. I wouldn't say we have more criminals per capita than in town, but out here, we work so long on the same beat that we know everybody. If something happens, we generally have an idea who to look at. It's not as racially diverse as in town, but that's a matter of choice. There's just not a lot of ethnic minorities with a desire to move out here."
Smith says there are two major problems he has to deal with in Dulzura: disputes and traffic.
"Domestic disputes and boundary disputes are a big problem -- people not getting along. I would call them petty disputes. 'My neighbor's dogs are coming in my yard and tearing up my trash,' or 'My neighbor's fence is two feet on my side of the line.' That's law enforcement in general: refereeing. Law enforcement out here is pretty much the same as in town, except you don't get as many calls. I'd be doing the same thing even if I was still in National City. But anything that happens in town happens here -- murders, burglaries, spousal assaults, petty thefts, child abuse."
Like any city policeman, Smith does not like handling disputes, particularly domestic ones. "We'll get calls from a parent because ten-year-old Johnny doesn't want to go to school. That's not a law-enforcement problem! The parents can't control their ten-year-olds, and they want the sheriff to come out, show some discipline, and make Johnny do what Mom says. But my job is not to raise people's kids for them. Some people don't understand that. A lot of people figure that law enforcement is the last resort to any problem, whether it's little Johnny not wanting to go to school or the daughter not dressing the way they want or the neighbor's dog coming on their property and pooping. How do you know it's the neighbor's dog? Did you see him? Our problem is not petty crimes but petty disputes. We get a lot of calls, and we have to answer them all. We try not to alienate people by saying, 'Hey, this is a stupid problem and it's none of our business.' But we try to make them understand that in the future, they should try to solve [the problem] in another way; we try to give them some ideas about how to deal with it. But a lot of them will call again the next week. There's a lot of time wasted on things like that, and it will always be that way."
When it comes to disputes between neighbors, Smith is more understanding. "A lot of people don't want to go to their neighbor's door and say, 'Hey, I've got this problem with you.' They don't know if they're going to get beaten up or shot or have a dog set on them or what. People nowadays don't know their neighbors very well and are afraid to confront them.
"There's two ends to the spectrum on that," Smith continues. "Out here, there's a lot of people where everybody knows everybody. Then there are those people who are very private, and their neighbors don't know them at all. They may have lived next to them for years and years and never had any contact with them. And most places are not window-to-window; you have big chunks of properties. Up on Honey Springs, the lots are all about six acres, so you're not rubbing elbows with your neighbors. People don't introduce themselves to each other -- that's just people in general nowadays. They are less outgoing than they used to be -- not as neighborly. And some people come out here for peace and quiet, and they find out that their neighbor has four or five dogs that bark all night, or roosters or kids on a dirt bike who ride until dark after school every day -- and what can you do about it? If somebody wants to press the issue, you can write a case for disturbing the peace, but even if somebody's willing to sign a complaint about some of these issues, the district attorney doesn't want to deal with that case."