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11.04.09

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Time to Deal with Crime

While Santa Cruz residents clamor for better public safety, cops point to 10 missing officers among their ranks, victims of budget cuts.

By Curtis Cartier


WITH the city still stunned by the stabbing death of 16-year-old Tyler Tenorio, a double shooting on Pacific Avenue, a home invasion rape on the Westside and a serial groper on the loose, news that Halloween weekend was relatively peaceful couldn't have come at a better time. But now that the 71 extra law enforcement officers that helped patrol the streets and skies of Santa Cruz over the weekend have gone back to their respective cities and agencies, local leaders are faced with cracking down on crime in a sustainable, long-term fashion. For Santa Cruz Mayor Cynthia Mathews, this means asking local residents to bring their ideas to a public safety forum next Tuesday, Nov. 10.

"I think public safety is always one of our top priorities, but right now it's really in the spotlight," says Mathews, who says she'll devote the entire 7pm session of the Santa Cruz City Council meeting that evening to addressing the recent violence. "I don't want to say exactly what we're prepared to do yet, but I want to end that meeting by taking serious action to address safety concerns."

A day before hordes of costume-wearing revelers descended on Pacific Avenue, a joint law enforcement task force tracked down 45 documented gang members and arrested 21 of them for drug and weapons charges and as parole and probation infractions. Additionally, a drug-buying sting on lower Pacific Avenue netted five arrests. Santa Cruz Police Capt. Steve Clark says the preemptive "sweep" was aimed at sending a message to would-be criminals that Santa Cruz will be an increasingly uncomfortable environment for gangsters or drug dealers. Clark also says, however, that keeping the city safe will take more than added police and additional gang crackdowns. He says it will require a "holistic" effort by the entire community.

"Though law enforcement has a role, we can't be the only response. The city needs to wake up and realize that we've created an environment that allows violence and crime to form," he says. "[Santa Cruz residents] need to voice their support for law enforcement and be willing to follow through with their ability to pay for it as well. You can't just throw money at police, but we're down 10 sworn officers and several unsworn [community service officers] as well. And the ones that are working have to go through work furloughs. All this goes toward creating an environment that allows a tragedy like what happened to Tyler Tenorio to happen."

Clark is hoping the city will spring for additional police officers, but Santa Cruz Vice Mayor Mike Rotkin says that's all but impossible given the city's fiscal woes. Instead, he says that steps like installing additional streetlights on Lower Pacific Avenue, shifting existing police resources to concentrate on gang suppression, and looking into rehiring a county-and-city-funded gang diversion officer to work with at-risk youth are on the table. He also says that the city is taking unwarranted heat for appearing to wait to get tough on public safety until after serious crimes rocked the community.

"People have a sense of, 'Gosh, we weren't doing anything until people started getting stabbed,' but it's not as if we haven't been working on this problem all along," says Rotkin. "The gang sweep that caught 21 gang members and a bunch of drug dealers was planned well before there was a stabbing or a rape. And sweeps like that will be stepped up even more. People should bring us their suggestions, but also keep an open mind that this is something we didn't just start caring about."


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