A community at a crossroads
Recent violence and attacks on downtown have done more than torn through the fabric of our historically peaceful community; it has left many residents simply asking, “What happened to the Santa Cruz I know?” In search of easy answers we often look toward short-term policy changes (more police overtime) or easy scapegoats (elected officials). But a micro approach, while satiating the initial visceral need to do something, really does little to address the underlying issue. That issue, simply stated, is that our community is no longer the community we knew.
The community is at a crossroads, socially, economically and even politically. Santa Cruz is not, and really will not, be the town so many remembered. New generations of residents are challenging historically held notions about communal priorities, and recent incidents have forced us into a dialogue that was a longtime coming. But this is not simply generational. Longterm community leaders are seeing years of hard work collapse from the influx of gangs, increases in violent crime and an overall degradation of quality of life.
Law enforcement agencies and elected officials are reflections of community priorities. The department’s aim is not to espouse a specific opinion on these issues but rather to encourage the community to work toward a consensus on what the priorities, should be moving forward. We need to realize that hard choices and tradeoffs will be necessary to accommodate the changing priorities being asked for by many in our community. Ultimately, as a community, we need to take responsibility for our decisions and priorities and how they are reflected in a number of outcomes.
We need to come together with the understanding that law enforcement can mitigate but not eliminate many of the problems that we face. Additionally, we need to accept that many of the problems (including gang violence) are a new permanent reality for our city and not just something that faces larger municipalities.
As a community we need to start asking difficult questions that do not allow for simple solutions. What historic policies are incongruent with the changing needs of our residents? What tradeoffs, if any, are we willing to make in regard to new ordinances or policies that many believe could have an impact on liberties? Do changing community priorities need to be reflected in changing police allocation efforts?
All of these questions are value-based with inherent risks and rewards. Are we willing to accept that externalities (positive and negative) are a reality of priority and value-based policy- making? It is unsustainable to use traditional models and approaches to our modern problems. This includes a historic tolerance of “low-priority” law enforcement issues (drug use and quality-of-life issues), resistance toward sustainable economic development and even some antipathy toward law enforcement in general.
If we want to preserve these historic models, are we willing to also accept that tolerance of some issues can lead toward the spiraling of larger issues? Ultimately, are we as a community willing to accept shared responsibility for decisions we make about priorities? Will we be willing to look at how these priorities, some of which actually provide the uniqueness that so many appreciate about our community, impact quality of life? Our department will continue to work to reflect the priorities of the community. But we ask that we all look at how priorities impact outcomes and that we as a community share responsibility in those outcomes. That we share in successes from those priorities and share responsibility in the shortcomings as well.
In the last 12 months, our department and our elected officials have responded to growing concerns by taking significant measures to address gang violence, drug issues, women’s safety and illicit behavior downtown. Community organizations have formed to mobilize people for positive change. Yet we all recognize that more can be done to stem the tide of problems we face. But more importantly, we all have a role in establishing the groundwork for a new community that may look different from one that many of us are accustomed to.
Without question, everyone in our community needs to feel that our city is a place where personal safety is of paramount importance. We commit every day to this vision and ask that the community at large join us in this endeavor.
It is our goal to maintain our high level of accountability and accessibility to you, the community that we serve. The true measurement of an agency is on the impact we leave for those who come after us. With your continued partnership we will always strive to ensure that the outcomes of our work provide a better community for all.
Zach Friend is Principal Management Analyst and Spokesman for the Santa Cruz Police Department.