The assets that make Santa Cruz such a wonderful place to visit, from its beaches and greenbelt to its welcoming culture, walkable neighborhoods and temperate climate, bring more than just visitors to our City.
Unlike many communities of 50,000, our City swells in population every day, as students, staff and faculty travel to UC Santa Cruz and tourists visit the Boardwalk and beaches. Our civic pride, natural and cultural assets, hometown talent and name recognition match the assets of many large metropolitan areas. Our public safety issues parallel those of an urban metropolis as well.
Unlike some large metropolitan areas, which have jurisdictional authority over police, prosecutors, health services, courts and the county jail, we are in a more challenging position in Surf City, with overlapping jurisdictions and funding sources for different parts of our social service and criminal justice systems.
Our City’s Public Safety Task Force (who wrapped up their tenure in December 2013) was well aware of these factors impacting our City’s crime rate.
Using a data-driven approach to analyze the impact of criminal behavior, the Task Force spent much of 2013 taking a long, honest look at drug abuse and drug-related crime, the degradation of public spaces and increased calls for emergency service. It leveraged expert testimony from partner agencies, non-profits and community organizations and ensured that a variety of community voices were heard during deliberations.
What we learned out of that effort was that ameliorating public safety issues will require the full commitment of the City, County and Superior Court as well as social service nonprofits and engaged citizens.
Throughout 2014 (and the coming years), the City has committed to working toward solutions in three thematic areas: prevention, enforcement and collaborative accountability for improving our area’s quality of life.
When it comes to prevention, we are redoubling our efforts in community policing, environmental improvements like increased lighting along the San Lorenzo River Walkway and outreach to at-risk youth as well as collaborating closely with neighborhood groups, concerned citizens and social service providers to prevent crime before it happens.
But not all crimes are preventable, so we will also prioritize strategic enforcement activities, with elevated attention on serial offenders. This is particularly important as the County contends with prison realignment (AB 109) that since 2011 has shifted state prisoners down to the local level.
Our Main County jail exceeds its capacity every day. Few lower level offenders face jail time, and probation officer caseloads have expanded exponentially. These conditions have helped to create a cycle of recidivism for hundreds of individuals in the County.
In the last few weeks you may have read about our collaboration with the Courts, non-profit service providers, County Health and the District Attorney to pilot a program which takes an integrated case-management approach to addressing habitual offenders in Downtown Santa Cruz. The geographic focus reflects our commitment to economic vitality and the number of frequent offenders in the downtown area who have regular contact with the Santa Cruz Police Department. The program team will work out of a downtown office, with a goal of making the program visible and effective and expanding to other areas if successful.
This program was conceived as a direct outcome of the Task Force’s dedicated efforts and our commitment to joining together to tackle our most intransigent social problems. I’m hopeful that it will result in a better quality of life for all people who call Santa Cruz home.
Watch this space for more updates on this and other collaborations with the County and Courts on public safety. It’s an issue that is central to our efforts to make Santa Cruz a great place to live, work and play. It will take a lot of effort and flexibility, but we have the will to make the changes needed to enhance safety and security in our City.