Hilary Bryant: Public safety is our top priority

Posted:   02/16/2013 05:17:29 PM PST

Hilary Bryant
Our Santa Cruz community is reeling. Residents, business owners and students have said “enough” to illegal campsites, needles strewn in our parks and beaches, and the recent spike in crime. Deteriorating conditions in our public spaces, along with the recent downtown homicide and the attempted homicide of a UC Santa Cruz student are completely unacceptable. These tragedies and safety concerns are a sharp reminder that we must actively protect our safe and vibrant community. Enough is enough.
As your mayor, I am fully committed to changing course. I want you to know that my fellow City Council members and the city staff are with me; we are all actively working to make Santa Cruz a safe and flourishing community by applying the following measures:
First, we are working diligently to fully staff our Police Department. The year 2012 marked our Police Department’s busiest on record. Santa Cruz police officers responded to over 104,000 calls for service and made 8,300 arrests (16 percent and 50 percent increases over 2011). Our police officers are doing more with less, as they grapple with filling vacant positions. In the meantime, the City Council will provide the department with all the resources and support it needs to be successful.
Second, we must address the illegally discarded needles, illegal campsites and degraded environmental quality of our public spaces. While the causes are complex, complete solutions to these issues require other community and government partners. For many years, city staff has been working on camp abatements; this past summer, they ramped up their efforts. At our Feb. 26 meeting, the City Council is poised to increase abatement funding and to explore further measures that we can take to improve water quality at our beaches.
Third, city staff members are working closely with Santa Cruz County to develop a model needle exchange program. This program must have county oversight, accountability and effective public reporting systems in place. It should provide a true 1-for-1 exchange in a manner that does not impact our neighborhoods, parks, open spaces and beaches. That also includes developing better mechanisms for safe needle disposal.
Once implemented, these tools should alleviate some of the immediate public safety and environmental concerns. We will measure their impacts and report regularly back to the community on our progress. However, we can neither arrest our way out nor clean our way out of the current state of affairs. Persistent drug addiction and drug-related crime factor heavily into our public safety issues. These complex problems require systemic solutions.
Therefore, the fourth and final part of our plan is to assess these systemic problems closely with our regional partners and a citizen task force to create meaningful and lasting solutions. While the city provides law enforcement, it is Santa Cruz County that has jurisdiction over public health, our justice system, courts and jails, and social programs. I believe strongly that only through enhanced city efforts and focused participation from our county sheriff, district attorney, courts, human services agency, and drug-treatment organizations can we develop solutions that address these long-term safety problems. These issues did not arise overnight in Santa Cruz, nor can we say with a straight face that we will resolve them overnight. However, the entire City is committed to this enhanced course of action.
My thanks go out to the community for raising awareness of these issues, and to our Public Safety Committee (Council members David Terrazas, Pamela Comstock and Cynthia Mathews) for developing the safety action plan.
Hilary Bryant is mayor of the city of Santa Cruz.