Task Force to Crack Down on Illegal Campsites

A joint effort between police and two city departments will spend the next 30-45 days identifying and eradicating illegal campsites in places like freeway interchanges, West Cliff beaches and the San Lorenzo River Levee.

A new task force has formed to address the “increasing problem” of illegal campsites in the city of Santa Cruz, according to a press release.

According to the release, the task force is a joint effort between the SCPD, the Parks and Recreation Commission and the . Over the next 30-45 days, the task force will devote additional personnel and resources to identifying and eradicating illegal campsites.

“The formation of the task force comes amidst growing concerns over increased fire dangers, sanitation, environmental degradation and public safety,” the release states. “Concerns include illegal campsites around West Cliff beaches, freeway interchanges, San Lorenzo River Levee and rural park interfaces.”

During this period, the task force will also focus on strict enforcement of illegal behaviors associated with the campsites.

SCPD spokesman Zack Friend said that drug and alcohol use, excessive trash and unauthorized camp fires have been reported to police as well as have been observed by officers and city staff.

He said it is not uncommon to see an increase in illegal campsites during the summer though the department has received more tips than usual as of late.

"We make it really easy for people to notify us via iPhone apps and other apps as well as online," he said. "I can't say if there's an increase in campsites or people are just noticing and reporting them more."

According to Friend, some individuals associated with illegal campsites have been cited several times by law enforcement but have failed to appear in court. These cases are being handled as civil rather than criminal matters.

However, part of the task force’s efforts will be acquiring warrants for anyone who has three or more “failures to appear” on municipal code citations, therefore bringing the cases back into criminal court.

"These are the urinating in public, smoking on the sidewalk and open container violations," Friend said.

Currently, there are 124 known individuals to have three or more failures to appear, amounting to 691 outstanding violations.

The task force will present packets on these individuals to the City Attorney’s office and request arrest warrants, the release states.

While bringing repeat violators to justice is one element of the task force's agenda, Friend said getting individuals into the court system is a way for them to get the help they may need to get off the streets.

"You can't gain access to many of the services available to you if you are not in the court system," he said. "This is a way for these individuals to gain access to the help they need."

The SCPD has set up a hotline for community members to call during the enforcement period to report illegal campsites. Reported campsites will be placed on a list in order of priority to be addressed by the team.

Community members wishing to report an illegal campsite can call (831) 420-5892. The hotline is automated, allowing tipsters to leave as much or as little information about themselves as they are comfortable with, Friend said.

frobert July 10, 2012 at 12:14 PM
I hope that the skid row section of the levee in front of CVS is being looked at. I have seen the trash and waste being generated in that area and is not a pretty sight to say the least!
Michelle Fitzsimmons July 10, 2012 at 04:13 PM
Do you think this task force is going to unfairly target a certain sector of the population, in terms of people who may not have permanent housing? Is this the right solution to the problem of people camping out illegally?
kemakol@msn.com July 10, 2012 at 04:30 PM
Heroin Hill is becoming re-populated...Pogonip between the tracks & U Con is being trashed again!
Michelle Fitzsimmons July 10, 2012 at 04:55 PM
It sounds like garbage is a huge issue with these campsites, as expressed by you and frobert.
Helbard Alkhassadeh July 10, 2012 at 05:51 PM
My neighbors and I have been calling the police at least twice a week for the past 3 months to keep the Northwest corner of Laurel St. bridge clear. There are about 8 men, usually drunk or drinking, hanging out on the levee and the walking path. Several young women have told me they take the other bridges to downtown because the men make comments or block their path. Some women have told me they stopped going downtown all together because of that corner. I've seen them toss trash and empty bottles into the bushes. I've seen them deal drugs and go to the bathroom in the middle of the day. It started with a couple guys and has turned into a campsite with sometimes over 15 people. I'm extremely happy the PD is doing something about this.
Robert Norse July 11, 2012 at 02:53 PM
Taking action against abusive behavior or environmental destruction is a positive step. Specifically going out to destroy homeless encampments wholesale is an attack on the right and need of homeless people to live--particularly if no alternatives are proposed. It's really as simple as that.
Jim Spring July 11, 2012 at 06:10 PM
Robert - aside from being a gadfly and using the homeless issue for your own self fulfillment, what do you personally do to help with the issue in the city of Santa Cruz? You don't live in the city, you don't pay property taxes, and you clearly are not in alignment with how the bulk of the city citizens feel about this issues. In particular, these people aren't "camping". They are drunks, trashing places, threatening water ways with their drug paraphernalia and human waste. How about using your personal finances and property to house these people rather than continuing to support the trashing of Santa Cruz? I've personally helped clean up a number of camps, nearly all of them included alcohol and drug paraphernalia. Heck, even last week, I had to point out a syringe *on* Pacific Avenue to a near by cop. Or, in other words, your input has as much value as your contribution to the well being of the city of Santa Cruz -- it is worthless.
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