Re: “Chief Concerns” (GT, 8/4): My appreciation to Jake Pierce for illuminating policing and public safety concerns in our city. His in-depth reporting points out the deepening schism between calls for police reform and demands for tougher enforcement, raising a question about the direction that Chief Mills leadership is taking.
Activist Ayo Banjo focuses on police reform, citing the pressing need for an independent police accountability review board. Reading his outcry for accountability, I recalled information about Santa Cruz policing from the Police Scorecard, a group conducting the first nationwide public evaluation of policing in the U.S. Their Santa Cruz report cited that of 47 civilian complaints against police between 2016-2018, only one in five were ruled in favor of civilians—a statistic that points to our pressing need for civilian oversight.
There have also been recent calls for an Oversight Review Board for our county jails. A 2021 Grand Jury report called “Justice in Jail” cited recent problems in our Main Jail including inmate deaths, violence, equipment failures, criminal conduct, and sexual assaults by correction officers. It’s noteworthy that the three most recent deaths of jail inmates have all been people of color. (For more, see Good Times’ Dec. 8, 2020 story “What’s going on in the county jail?”)
Ayo also advocates for reform in crisis response to nonviolent emergency calls, based on the nationally acclaimed Eugene Oregon CAHOOTS mobile crisis model. This year, a number of communities across the nation initiated non-police mobile response pilot programs including Denver’s STAR and Oakland’s MACRO mobile crisis units. Interestingly, Huntington Beach’s HOPE (Helping Out People Everywhere) received more than 1/2 their funding from Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act, which encourages cities to implement non-law enforcement mobile crisis units.
Unfortunately, Chief Mills and our city leaders did not actively pursue the new Covid funding opportunities to implement a pilot CAHOOTS model program for Santa Cruz, despite the fact that 2018 statistics revealed only 15.5% of SCPD calls were designated as crime-related, with 60%—7 calls an hour— related to the unhoused. While Chief Mills himself has thrown up his hands, remarking, “If someone could take the homeless issues entirely from us and stop us from responding to mental health calls—please, take the money!”, he has not actively advocated for a non-police alternative.
Finally, Jake mentions increased community questioning of Chief Mills’ initial commitment to police reform and compassionate response to our homeless crisis and cites egregious blog posts. Unfortunately, a recent police Facebook post points in the direction of a punitive, hardline approach. The account of the August 4 “Operation Sit on the Bench” raid of the homeless encampment on Highway 1 at the river in response to citizen complaints strongly emphasizes the criminal aspect of the residents. The post contains a detailed listing of the specific drugs and weapons confiscated and states, “all of today’s arrests would have been felony arrests, but Prop 57 and 47 reduce them to misdemeanor charges.” Also mentioning AB109— the posting blatantly lobbies for rescinding recent legislation aimed at reducing the jail population by making nonviolent, nonserious property and drug crimes a misdemeanor. The SCPD Facebook post concludes with: “Fact: SCPD arrests criminals everyday. If you want them to be booked and remain in jail, contact your state and elected representatives.”
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