Power to the People, Not the Police

Proposed ordinances target houseless residents

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Jessica York reported for the Santa Cruz Sentinel that Monterey County/Salinas Homeless Union Leader Wes White said Mills’ ideas “black out the checkerboard” of where houseless residents can be.

In his message to Santa Cruz on the SCPD website, Chief Andrew Mills claims his force treats people with respect. He says he does not support vigilantism and believes in peaceful de-escalation.

But Mills’ policies dispel all hope that he means what he says. 

He recently pitched a series of ordinances that would establish no-syringe zones in city parks and benches, expand nightly curfews and stay-away orders on Pacific Avenue, ban public bike dismantling, set parking fees on West Cliff, hold businesses responsible for missing shopping carts and allow officers to upgrade infractions to arrestable misdemeanors for repeat offenses. 

Mills might say these policies don’t amount to vigilantism, but if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, we’d better believe it’s a duck — a vigilante duck. 

At a Santa Cruz Neighbors meeting, Mills said his proposals wouldn’t “solve any homeless problems.” It’s unclear what Mills meant by this — the problems houseless individuals face while they’re just trying to survive? More likely, he meant the problem as it’s viewed from the upper echelons of the city.

Mills insists the potential laws are intended to “control behaviors that affect our businesses, that affect our community, that affect our citizens — both housed and unhoused.” He said they will help prevent and punish “behaviors that we as a community decide is against the norm.”

But who decided it’s abnormal to try to find a place to sleep for the night? The ordinances are obviously targeting folks who sleep outside or in their cars and those who use syringes regularly.

The prevalence of these so-called criminal acts reveals more about structural deficiencies in Santa Cruz than it does about the crime rate. People need agency over their bodies and their lives but these ordinances are about criminalizing survival. The police claim to care about residents but tickets are no replacement for accessible social services. 

Empowering police officers to make more arrests where they deem fit is a glaring misstep. Upgrading infractions to arrestable offences would only increase the number of bodies being sent through criminal courts, an outcome that Mills himself said he wanted to avoid.

Rather than working with the community to assess their needs or, perhaps, deliver more livable conditions, Mills is working on a set of ordinances that would unquestionably make life harder for houseless folks living in downtown Santa Cruz and the surrounding cities.

Mills plans to elicit input from Santa Cruz community members on the ordinance drafts before making any formal proposals with them. Through several meetings, to be announced at a later date, residents will be able to voice their opinions on the suggested laws.

The audacity of these plans cannot go unopposed. We must recognize this effort to “curb public nuisance” as the attack on houseless folks that it really is. Anyone who opposes these egregious suggestions must attend Mills’ public input meetings and express their dissatisfaction with his plans.