Drugs, prostitution and theft are some of the frequent things neighbors around Ocean Street say they see on a daily basis – and they say it is often terrifying.
About 50 people, including an organization that is working to take back the streets called "Take Back Santa Cruz," met with police at the UCSC Hotel on Ocean Street Wednesday.
Many wanted support from the police and neighbors in fighting crime. A few who turned out thought that homeowners, in trying to protect their own rights, were trampling on those of the homeless.
“Everyone I have talked to has had a problem with crime," said Regina Henderson, one of Take Back Santa Cruz's organizers. "Be it related to gang activity, litter, public intoxication, trespassing, defecation on public property, pimps and prostitution, drug use.”
Henderson spoke of "Crack Pipe Bridge," her name for the newest pedestrian bridge connecting River Street to the upper Ocean Street area alongside the Highway 1 overpass.
Neighbors say they see drug deals going on behind businesses along Ocean, and then drug users heading over to the levee with their purchases.
The community has "to set the standards of the place that we want to live in," she said. "We’re not going to get there just by the police, city council, or 911.”
Santa Cruz Police Lt. Larry Richards agreed with Henderson, saying that “the police need help” preventing crime. He urged citizens to contact the police via 911 in any situation where they feel threatened. Richards made it very clear that 911 is the tool to be used instead of confrontation.
“If you feel the hairs on the back of your neck rise up, call 911,” Lt. Richards urged. “It is the job of dispatchers and police officers to prioritize 911 calls according to their urgency. If you feel like something might be wrong, then something probably is wrong, and you should call 911.”
Richards commended the 60-plus neighborhood watch groups in Santa Cruz who aid police in community crime prevention. He also highlighted ways the department is bolstering its ties to the community.
“Our number of volunteer officers in the department has expanded to include over 20 members in recent weeks,” said Richards, who explained that volunteer patrols will extend police presence at events as high school sports. “These are parts of the community where families and young people go, and need to feel safe. An increased police presence will help to do that.”
Lt. Richards suggested people browse www.Santacruzpolice.com. The site has access to local police scanners, public safety alerts, crime maps, the police chief's blog, and a place to post anonymous tips, most of which are available on a mobile phone app.
While most favored more law and order, some said they thought of Take Back Santa Cruz as a lynch mob out to get rid of people they find undesirable.
After the forum, Superior Court judges Paul Marigonda, Ariadne Symons, and John Gallagher hosted a meeting to discuss the judicial system, in particular, recently enacted legislation which will alter sentencing rules for local judges.
Assembly bill 109, enacted on February 2 will go into effect as soon as funding is in place, and will refocus supervision of non-violent offenders from the state to the local level.
“This will change the way we do business on a day to day level,” said Judge Marigonda, who added he is hopeful the legislation will give judges new tools to deter 'revolving door,' or repeat offenders. Marigonda believes that local control over offenders will help reduce recidivism for non-violent drug offenders in particular.
Local judges will do parole hearings for many non-violent misdemeanor and felony offenses, rather than the state parole board, Marigonda said.
Judge Symons shares in Marigonda's enthusiasm for the new powers assembly bill 109 gives to local courts, saying “ it is not uncommon for a habitual drug offender to relapse and end up back in court. I am willing to give them how ever many chances it takes, 3, 4, 5, 6,7, however many to kick their habit. It's the best thing for the community to get offenders to kick drugs. As long as you don't hurt someone, I don't feel it is appropriate to send you to prison.”
The next meeting with Santa Cruz Police will be May 3, 8:30-10 a.m. at the Sun Room Terrace at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, 400 Beach St.