By Ari Bird
Street performers, musicians and homeless persons help make up the diverse population of Pacific Avenue in downtown Santa Cruz. However, some lawmakers feel that the homeless population may pose a threat to others in the area.
In an effort to make downtown Santa Cruz safer, the District Attorney’s office and the police department are instating the “P-Case” program, which forbids repeated crime offenders from coming downtown.
Santa Cruz Police Spokesman Zach Friend defended the program.
“At least 80 percent of those we arrest downtown have been arrested before,” Friend said.
He went on to clarify that only those who commit serious crimes, such as stabbings, grand theft or narcotic sales, will be banned from downtown Santa Cruz. Offenders are generally given a warning and then only arrested if they continue to pursue illegal activities.
In the last few months, only about eight people have been banned from Pacific Avenue, which makes a total of 12 since the instatement of the “P-Case” program.
In February, police began tightening their grip on citizens breaking the law. With 10 extra patrols in 4 weeks, they arrested 60 people and wrote 156 citations. Patrols, arrests, and citations decreased after this initial crackdown.
Friend, along with members of the Santa Cruz Police Department, believed the increases in arrests and citations are due to the police’s improved patrol system as well as the support the department has gathered from the community of Santa Cruz regarding cleaning up the downtown area.
According to Friend, most of the banned individuals are men and common local residents, county residents or members of Santa Cruz’s homeless population. If arrested, homeless citizens are referred to one of Santa Cruz’s many local homeless shelters.
Public opinion of the situation downtown remains split. Some people believe crime has been under control on Pacific Avenue for a while, while others think the police crackdown has helped and should be tightened in order to see permanent change in the state of downtown Santa Cruz.
Paul O’Brien, executive director of the Santa Cruz Counseling Center, rarely has negative interactions with the homeless downtown.
“Nobody has done anything worse than ask me for something,” O’Brien said. “No one ever hassles me.”
In contrast, Pete Jussel, a Santa Cruz local for 30 years and a retired Metro bus driver, concluded the crackdown was a good idea.
“It’s quieter at night,” said Jussel, who lives on Pacific Avenue. “There are not so many empty, broken liquor bottles on the streets.”