By Allen Young
With the crashing waves of the Boardwalk Beach clearly visible behind long glass windows, about 60 Santa Cruz citizens gathered in the Sun Room Terrace Ballroom last Thursday Sep. 28 to discuss violence in the Beach Flats area.
The meeting opened with Santa Cruz Police Department (SCPD) Lt. Ricky Martinez, one of 10 officers in attendance.
"As you all know this was a very busy summer, it seemed like every other week we were shutting down streets."
Over summer 2006, the Beach Flats section of town encountered a rash of stabbings, drive-by shootings, and one homicide. Martinez said enforcement to the area was increased last February. Lt. Martinez updated the public on three major cases that occurred over the summer and asked the public to come forward if they had information.
"We are not going to cease in our operation to cease gang activity," Martinez said.
Arnold Vasquez, Santa Cruz detective and gang expert, informed the crowd of the two main rival gangs of the area, the Nortenos who claim the north and wear red, and the Surenos who claim the south and wear blue blue.
"The beach flat area is Sureno-based. For a rough estimate we have about 75-100 people claiming sortenos in the beach area."
Vasquez said the age group of the gang ranges from 14-35, but cautioned the group to be watchful of the youngsters.
"Most of the problems we have come from the younger 14-22 age group who are trying to earn their keep, trying to earn their ‘bones’ as they call it."
Vasquez asked the group to look out for and report gang graffiti: wall taggings that may include red or the letter ‘S’.
"We need people to stand together and engage," said Patty Sepone, Deputy Chief of Police. "One of the reasons there was trouble with a number of cases this summer was from people who had been standing in the street and watching the crime, but did not report it.
"These meetings take a lot of energy [on the part of the police department], Sepone told City on a Hill Press. "We had a citywide community meeting at the end of August and we made a commitment to host follow-up meetings in every beat of town."
The SCPD divides Santa Cruz into five beats: east, downtown, central, beach, and west. This was the first follow-up meeting since August.
Resident Jim Sandoval cited a desire for community awareness and concern for violence in Santa Cruz as reasons for attending the meeting.
"I thought the meeting was pretty good. We got to hear reports, and to hear about our resources, and also meet some of my neighbors who are concerned about the same thing I’m concerned about," Sandoval said.
When Sepone asked the crowd if they felt the situation in the Beach Flats had become better or worse in the past few weeks, she received resounding calls of "better" and thumbs up.