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How can our community reduce property crime in the City of Santa Cruz? read more

How can our community reduce property crime in the City of Santa Cruz?


Goals

  1. Reduce the total occurrences of petty theft
  2. Reduce the total number of bicycle thefts
  3. Reduce instances of vandalism
  4. Identify and address the primary causes of property crime
  5. Reduce the total number of burglaries

Overview

According to the most recent FBI crime statistics, the city of Santa Cruz has the highest per capita property crime rate in the state for medium to large cities. In 2011, there was one reported incident of property crime for every 18 people.

What is interesting to note, however, is that Santa Cruz is seen by many within law enforcement as an anomaly:

What makes Santa Cruz stand out is how unique it seems among a list of high-crime cities. It lacks the complexity of Oakland, Stockton or other high-crime communities with serious poverty issues, places that don't share the same affluence, property values or age demographics as Santa Cruz. (Hoppin, J., "At Risk: Santa Cruz crime among state's highest," Santa Cruz Sentinel, April 4, 2013)

Despite these high numbers, Santa Cruz has actually seen a 40% decrease in property crime since 1985, with the 2008 rate being the lowest in the past 25 years. Last year, 2012, also saw a decrease in the number of burglaries—but it saw an increase in the number of reported bike thefts.

The combination of factors that makes Santa Cruz unique includes its proximity to the ocean, its high rate of homelessness, the fact that it has a major university and its centrally located downtown area (complete with a high density of liquor licenses).

Listed below are additional factors that may or may not influence the occurrence of property crime in Santa Cruz.

Drug Use and Gang Activity

Santa Cruz currently has a disproportionately high rate of heroin users, largely stemming from the drug's cheap cost and high availability. Many regional, and in some cases even international, gangs sell heroin and other drugs to finance their activities, and this problem is especially bad in Santa Cruz. In fact, heroin represents about 20 percent of the narcotics cases handled by the county's narcotics task force, and more heroin addicts seek treatment in the county than any other type of drug user (2010).

"There is a clear and direct link between local drug sales and gang-related violence," Santa Cruz Police Chief Howard Skerry says. (Squires, J. "Hooked on heroin: Public 'blissfully unaware' of illegal drug trade in Pogonip." Santa Cruz Sentinel, May 5th, 2010)

In particular, the Harvey West Neighborhood and the Pogonip have suffered tremendously from the use of illegal drugs. Santa Cruz police report a higher occurrence of crime in these areas, and local activist organizations have reportedly found a disproportionate amount of paraphernalia and litter there.

Law enforcement officials blame the majority of property crimes in Santa Cruz County on drug users. Most car break-ins, bike thefts and stolen identities can be traced to drug addicts desperate to buy another hit, police say. (Squires, J. "Hooked on heroin: Public 'blissfully unaware' of illegal drug trade in Pogonip". Santa Cruz Sentinel, May 5th, 2010)
Measure K

Passed in 2006, Measure K makes enforcement of marijuana crimes the lowest possible priority for the Santa Cruz Police Department. It came in response to the federal Drug Enforcement Agency's 2002 raid on the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana, which was operating legally under state law but illegally under federal law. One of the unintended consequences of Measure K's passage is that it discouraged cooperation with the DEA on other drug investigations, and in some cases does not allow for any cooperation to occur.

Cops and Courts

Despite Santa Cruz's high crime rate (both property and violent crime), it sends fewer people to prison than most other counties, ranking 53rd out of California's 58 total counties in incarceration rates. This is partly due to the county's progressive approach to rehabilitation. In fact, the Santa Cruz model for dealing with certain types of non-violent, non-sex-related crimes has been praised by the state of California for reducing the total number of inmates within the county jail. This approach was also touted as a model response to AB109, which realigns much of the focus and burden for dealing with non-violent, non-sex crimes to the county level. It is estimated that the reduced number of inmates resulting from this approach saves the county an estimated $23 million a year.

Homelessness and Social Services

While many local leaders and academics say that social services should lead to an overall decrease in crime, many local residents feel the opposite. In particular, crime rates in the area surrounding the Coral Street Homeless Services Center are higher than those in other areas of the city. Supporters of the center say this reflects a certain segment of the population rather than the entire homeless population. Both sides, however, are quick to acknowledge that heavy drug use and homelessness are related.

Tourism

The Santa Cruz Police Department and multiple elected officials have acknowledged that tourism is a factor in Santa Cruz's high rates of property crime. Tourists make easy targets for local thieves, and higher crime rates persist in and around the neighborhoods near the Boardwalk and other well-known tourist attractions. The SCPD has also acknowledged that because of the influx of tourists in the summer months, the officer-to-civilian ratio is lower than at other times of the year, making enforcement more difficult. Furthermore, the incidents of property crime do increase during the summer months and during holidays.

Culture

Santa Cruz has long been known to be more accepting than other communities of drug use and different lifestyles, which many local residents point to as one of the leading factors associated with higher rates of homelessness and crime in general. However, there exists little evidence to validate this claim.

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Officials

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  • Hilary Bryant
    Mayor of Santa Cruz
  • Lynn Robinson
    City Council Member
  • Cynthia Mathews
    City Council Member
  • Scott Collins
    Assistant City Manager
  • Cynthia Matthews
    City Council Member