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Nūz: Santa Cruz County News Briefs

A county program to keep mentally ill folks out of jail bites the dust, an iconic Santa Cruz mural makes way for Amgen and SCPD maps out neighborhood crime trends.

Mental Lapse

One day last fall, David True arrived at work to find a homeless man passed out behind his office building. "I found him in the bushes, stoned on glue," he says. Just weeks before, the man had had a job and a home and was taking his medication. But then funding for the Mentally Ill Offender Crime Reduction program was suddenly scrapped. "We had to abruptly end the program," says True, program director for Community Restoration Project. "There were major consequences for the participants."

In early September, state funding for MIOCR was not renewed, and $999,916 was yanked after what local entities--including the Sheriff's Department, the Probation Department, county mental health and community organizations like CRP--considered a very successful first year. On Tuesday, Jan. 27, the Sheriff's Department recommended the Board of Supervisors cancel $580,050 from the budget and close the book on the program's funding.

MIOCR was conceived as a way to relieve overcrowding in California jails by eliminating recidivism in mentally ill inmates who, without proper care, come to be familiar faces in the revolving door system. "Law enforcement is the first gatekeeper for the mentally ill," says Chief Deputy Sheriff Len Lofano. "Obviously they need help. They don't belong in jail."

What emerged was a partnership of county entities working together to identify the most frequent guests of the jail at 259 Water St., diagnose their mental illness and create a probation plan that included psychiatric evaluation and care, work programs and housing.

Twenty-five repeat offenders were identified and assigned to the MIOCR staff. They got medication and therapy. Many were provided beds at Pioneer House and work through David True. At its peak, MIOCR served 41 clients, with diagnoses ranging from schizophrenia to major depression. The year before, the MIOCR group had served 1,810 days in jail. In the 15-month life span of the program, the number fell to 31 days.

When the state pulled the plug, however, the fallout was as dramatic as the success. "Predictably," says True, "lots of them ran into trouble."

Currently a skeleton crew works with 20 remaining clients, but 12 have relapsed since October, resulting in 228 days in jail. "They're going to cost the taxpayers money," says county Mental Health supervisor David Polack. "The meds come straight out of the sheriff's budget, straight out of the general fund. It's hundreds of thousands a year."

Polack says the program will continue to run in its starvation mode, with county money, so that it can be a top contender for funding in better times. "It's something I really believe in," he says.

Enter Mural Sports

Peter Bartczak's mural at Scope Park, across from the Clock Tower, has always seemed to Nu_z the perfect illustration of Santa Cruz's freewheeling, goofball spirit. The vision of musicians, kids, Mohawk-sporting punks and folks in wheelchairs cavorting on a moonlit beach said a lot in the mid-'90s as the dotcom boom was gearing up. It stood as a reminder to drivers sitting in traffic on Mission Street of what the city was in its heart.

But things change. Murals fade and are painted over. Scraps of city land are designated for infill development. And so it is that next week, artist Steve Hosmer of Stokes Signs and Santa Cruz Arts Program Manager Crystal Birns will paint over Bartczak's mural in an effort to spruce up downtown for the Feb. 16 arrival of the Amgen bike tour in Santa Cruz. They'll be replacing it with the city's also very Santa Cruzan Amgen logo: a girl on a cruiser bike. And then, in the next year or two, condos will very likely go up in Scope Park.

We asked Bartczak, who moved to Paradise, Calif., in 2000, if he was OK with the changes. "I am, because the Santa Cruz in the mural doesn't exist anymore," he said. "The march of yellow lampposts on Front Street, the buildings downtown, the abundance of commuters and second homeowners--there's still magic in Santa Cruz, but it isn't the same place."

Bartczak said that summing up Santa Cruz for the mural was the hardest assignment he'd ever had. "I wanted to include the different kinds of people in Santa Cruz, but I didn't want to leave anybody out --you know, like the albino lesbian quadriplegics, so I worked a situation where everyone was in silhouette. And at the time my wife and I were doing these mother-goddess rituals at the beach. So I thought: what is Santa Cruz? It's the people, nature and magic."

To sketch the mural he gathered friends from his Washington Street neighborhood downtown and photographed them skipping. "Just about everyone in the mural is no longer in Santa Cruz," he said. " The dog is dead. My wife, who's in the front reaching for the moon, died last month."

It's fitting, perhaps, that the memorial for Bartczak's wife, artist Victoria Sulski, will be at noon this Sunday at the Cabrillo Gallery, days before work on the Scopes Park mural starts and another phase of Santa Cruz history is begun.

For more from Bartczak, visit Local_news.

Mapping Misdeeds

Every year the Santa Cruz Police Department compiles data from 12 months' worth of burglaries, thefts, robberies, assaults, vehicle thefts, rapes and homicides into an easy-to-read "crime map." This handy graphic, the latest of which was released Jan. 16, shows the exact location where specific crimes were committed and helps law enforcement and residents chart criminal trends in their neighborhoods. But for SCPD Capt. Steve Clark, up-to-date crime maps are just the beginning of what he hopes will someday be a technology and communications revolution at the department.

"Over the past couple years we've been embarking on a strategy and vision to communicate in a more real-time fashion," says Clark, "things like real-time crime alerts, where people sign up their cell phones and they get alerted by text message when there is a crime in their area. It's all about getting more info into the hands of the public."

Clark says the Internet has conditioned people to expect fresh information on a 24-hour basis. And while such endless updates might be the stuff of nightmares for an overworked staff, Clark says the advantages could easily trump the cost in equipment and hours.

"We've seen the benefits of when the community connects better with police," he says. "When people become OK with calling the police and they develop relationships, it's very beneficial. But people are used to info being instantaneous. They're used to being Twittered."

The huge amount of data contained in yearly crime maps and other records can be analyzed in countless ways. Unfortunately, such analysis is exactly the kind of thing SCPD can't afford with the city $7 million in debt and one of two police analyst positions having been axed with the last round of city layoffs. But even without paid staffers who can crunch the numbers and make sense of 2008's 2,783 crimes, the cops have made some determinations based on the data. Clark says they are focusing more on vehicle burglaries and gang violence, which have been increasing of late.

"We look at this data throughout the year so we have our finger on the pulse," says Clark. "I'd love to have some new technology in use now, but, like any police department, the budget is always a challenge."

SEE HOW YOUR neighborhood maps out at maps.html.

Nūz just loves juicy tips about Santa Cruz County politics.

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