By Carrie Spitler

The Santa Cruz Police Department (SCPD) has begun increasing patrols on Pacific Avenue in an effort to make the area safer and more comfortable for visitors and residents.

The extra patrol comes as a response to a rash of violent assaults downtown, and is being funded in part by revenues generated from the sales tax increase voters approved in November under Measure H.

“I think [there’s] been a pattern of aggressive and unnecessary behavior that has been an overall problem,” Santa Cruz Mayor Emily Reilly said. “It’s about obnoxious people behaving badly.”

According to SCPD Spokesperson Zach Friend, police are hoping that the extra patrol will allow the department to address crimes both on and away from Pacific Avenue more thoroughly, instead of having to prioritize complaints.

“There is significant support within the department to do this overtime work,” Friend said.

All of the extra police patrolling will be done voluntarily until 12 new positions are filled for the permanent watch.

Reilly believes that people on Pacific will feel more comfortable knowing that extra police are there to keep the area safe.

Reilly admitted that it was the city’s job to keep the street more agreeable in the last few years, but said that a lack of funds has prevented adequate patrol on the strip.

“We know it’s [the city’s] responsibility to maintain these issues,” Reilly said. ”And in the past, serious budget cuts haven’t allowed the police to be present.”

Reilly pointed to the passing of Measure H and the city’s rising economy as factors that facilitated the ramped up security effort.

Reilly also said that the city is responding to citizens’ complaints about the area, which have increased over the past year.

Criticism of Pacific Avenue has recently come from local residents, workers in second-story office buildings, tourists, and some business owners. Christopher Hoffmann, co-owner of Lotus Creations, located on the southern end of Pacific, said that while he isn’t against the police department doing extra surveillance of the area, he feels bad for panhandlers who need Pacific Avenue to survive.

“Part of me wants these people to be left alone,” Hoffmann said. “But it does affect business, especially on the weekends.”

He also mentioned that people have come into his store telling him that they usually avoid his end of Pacific because of panhandling. Hoffmnan has seen more than one altercation between police and disorderly people right in front of his store, which he believes reflects poorly on his business.

As if to immediately justify the extra patrol, on the second night of increased police patrols, an officer-in-training was attacked on Pacific Avenue by Ronald Stokes, a 39–year-old Santa Cruz resident.

While the trainee was writing a citation, Stokes, who was unrelated to the situation, approached him from behind, hitting the officer on the head and punching him in the face.

The victim’s training officer was nearby and the two were able to apprehend the assailant. Friend said that Stokes has a criminal record and has been arrested before for property and drug-related crimes.

However, Hoffmman has employed Stokes at Lotus Creations in the past and sees the exchange as very unusual.

“It just seems very uncharacteristic of him [Stokes],” Hoffmman said, “Maybe he was high or something, but it doesn’t sound like him.”

Despite the credibility Hoffmman affords him, Stokes’ attack underscores the need for increased police presence in downtown Santa Cruz.

Friend said, “What we want to do is provide a blanket of presence for Pacific Avenue.”