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.