Santa Cruz Good Times

Wednesday
Apr 16th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Eyes on the Courts

news1Public Safety Citizen Task Force adopts policy recommendations for City Council

Bryan Matthew Martin—a local recidivist whose rap sheet, dating back to 2003, includes check fraud, meth possession, and felony auto theft—is a name that, for the Public Safety Citizen Task Force, reflects possible negligence in sentencing by the Santa Cruz County Superior Court system.

In 2006, Martin was convicted of 13 felonies for drug- and theft-related charges, for which the court ordered an almost five-year suspended prison sentence, meaning if he violated his terms of probation, he would automatically serve the prison time, says city employee Susan O'Hara, who served as facilitator for the Task Force. The group was formed by the City’s Public Safety Committee in January to allow a core group of community stakeholders to form recommendations for City Council on improving public safety. O'Hara did not serve as a member of the Task Force or vote on recommendations, but rather helped to coordinate the group and document its findings.

Following the 2006 convictions, Martin was convicted of four misdemeanors over the course of four years, but instead of triggering the prison time, the courts only issued him new probation sentences.

“[Martin] had multiple occurrences where a judge from the Superior Court would suspend a prison sentence, so they essentially say, ‘This is your last chance, if you violate your probation you're going to go to prison,'” O'Hara says. “Subsequently, when he would violate his probation—sometimes with felonies—the suspended sentence was never imposed.”

Task Force Chair Kris Reyes says the 15-member group has heard a great deal of compelling testimony about repeat offenders and the degree to which the people who are committing crimes, like Martin, are still on the streets of Santa Cruz.

One of the more than 70 recommendations that the Public Safety Citizen Task Force has drafted for the Santa Cruz City Council to review, starting Tuesday, Dec. 3, is for the Santa Cruz County Grand Jury to investigate the County Superior Court and the presiding officials' use of discretionary power to sentence offenders.

For the past six months, the Task Force has deliberated over the core problems plaguing Santa Cruz and devised a set of recommendations, which were adopted by the Task Force at its final meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 20 at the Civic Auditorium.

The group outlined a list of the 17 highest priority recommendations for the City Council, and though the Grand Jury recommendation is not among them, there are parts that address the issue of recidivism and Superior Court accountability.

news1-2On Dec. 3, the Santa Cruz City Council will begin hearing more than 70 recommendations drafted by the Public Safety Citizen Task Force.According to the “highest priority list” recommendations, the Task Force states that the criminal justice system should be held accountable for under-serving the community as it relates to low-level crimes and drug offenses.

It claims that “improved accountability should be in the form of increased transparency, consistent adjudication of the City's municipal code violations, and implementation of a specialty court model.”

In order to criminalize the repeat, low-level offenders, who the Task Force identifies as a main source of diminishing public safety, the group recommends that the Superior Court issue a misdemeanor warrant after someone fails to appear in court within a six-month timeframe.

The Task Force reviewed the case of Miguel DeLeon, a 40-year-old “serial municipal code infraction offender,” according to O'Hara's report, as one cause of the Santa Cruz Police Department's overload and the court's shortcomings in case adjudication.

DeLeon has accumulated hundreds of unpaid municipal code citations, has cost the City tens of thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours of police and City Attorney time, the report says.

In 2009, driven by a variety of complaints from downtown business owners, the City filed a permanent civil injunction against DeLeon, prohibiting him from sleeping or committing municipal code violations downtown, which a judge granted. However, his citations continue to stack up and he continues to ignore them, according to the report.

“Right now,” O'Hara says, “it's just a civil process when [offenders] fail to appear. But, the City has an ordinance that says, with those three failures to appear, the City Attorney can prosecute on a misdemeanor charge.”

This recommendation would make it so that the misdemeanor warrant is issued without the City having to intervene and prosecute, which would give the police the authority to pick up the repeat municipal code offenders with the misdemeanor bench warrant.

The recommendation also advises that the Superior Court presiding judge be required to appear twice annually before City Council to present on what the court is doing to address high recidivism rates and receive input from Councilmembers and the City Attorney.

The specialty court model would cater on a case-by-case basis to crimes relating to substance abusers and mentally ill or homeless offenders, striking a balance between treatment and judicial monitoring to enforce court-ordered sanctions.

People who go through the specialty court would be required to receive treatment or be incarcerated, O'Hara says.

An example of the kind of offender the specialty court could serve is 21-year-old local heroin addict Nate, whose last name the SCPD could not provide. Nate sustains an $80 per day drug habit by stealing around town and panhandling. SCPD officers, who have regular contacts with Nate, spotted him last summer and recruited him to testify before the Task Force about his addiction.

Nate, who has multiple felonies and many layers of probation, told the Task Force he is not interested in rehab because they are “overly religious” or require hard labor. He claimed the only way for him to get clean would be jail time.

“Right now, most of our treatment programs are not coerced,” O'Hara says, citing the report. “If you're sent to a treatment program rather than going to jail, you can go for the first day and then walk out. The Task Force, I think, finds that [a specialty court] would be more effective for dealing with our repeat offenders than the current system.”

More broadly, the Task Force's recommendations comprise a four-pronged approach: prevention, strategic enforcement with accountability, collaborative oversight, and appropriate funding.

“The crux of the recommendations is this attempt to be evenly balanced between managing criminality upstream of the problem with prevention programs, and then also a strategy of managing criminality downstream of the problem, with strategic enforcement and recidivism reduction measures,” O'Hara says.

“Upstream,” the Task Force recommends a heavy focus on programming activities for youth.

“Keeping pre-at-risk and at-risk kids busy with after-school programs was a really important priority for improving conditions around gang affiliation, drug addiction and other criminal behavior,” she says.

On the subject of one of the community's most hot-button topics—needle exchange—the Task Force has recommended that the County’s Syringe Exchange Program implement a syringe identification tagging program, operate on a strict one-for-one basis and relocate the operation away from the Emeline neighborhood to a County-owned, non-residential property.

While the Grand Jury recommendation is a result of the Task Force's findings, the Grand Jury is not the body that would investigate the Superior Court. That complaint would go through the state's Commission on Judicial Performance.

Deborah Elston, a co-founder of the advocacy group Santa Cruz Neighbors, has attended almost every Task Force meeting for the past six months.

“No matter whether the recommendations can be followed through on or not, each recommendation is a statement in itself that something needs to be checked,” she says. “That may not be able to be done specifically in the way that they recommended, but it may be able to be done in another way, or it may open the door—hopefully not close the door—for that group to come to the table and have a conversation to say, 'Ok, what can we do better?'”

Elston, who has attended and followed many local Superior Court trials, says that with the more serious, felony crimes, she believes the Court is fair and effective. It is the low-end crimes—drug offenses, infractions, nonviolent violations—that the Court has a problem with.

There are a variety of factors that make adjudication in the low-end crimes very difficult, such as jail capacity, lawyers' evidence, and the probations department, she says.

“It makes you say, ‘What's wrong with the system here?’” Elston says. But, “once you start to learn the court system, and what constraints they're under, that's key, because our judges—on the felonies—do work within their parameters.”

Comments (3)Add Comment
Public Safety Task Force failed our community
written by John Colby, December 01, 2013
The report focuses on "nuisance crimes" and calls for discredited "broken window" policing. Our leaders targeted the poor and homeless as a bugaboo to illegitimately blame for valid public safety problems.

These include: aggressive teenage gangsters; violent drug dealers; and rising sexual violence against women and children. Sidestepping these for the favor of vocal fringe groups obsessed with expunging the vulnerable from our community, the task force has lost broad based support needed to safeguard us.
county-owned locaction for needle exchange?
written by Lillie , November 27, 2013
Keep Santa Cruz clean and green!

Locate a needle exchange at ~ 2350 Soquel Dr, 95062, the new locked psychiatric facility opening 12/16.
...
written by Kimo Kameanui, November 27, 2013
The Citizen Task Force's insightful recommendations make far too much reasonable common sense to ever be acceptable in Santa Cruz. Don't they realize they're scapegoating, victimizing, and discriminating against those poor unfortunates who are forced to prey on the residents of Santa Cruz and must depend on the misplaced sympathies of certain radicals in order to evade responsibility and maintain their freedom to damage the reputation and quality of life of Santa Cruz?
Keep Santa Cruz Safe and Clean - Colorful's fine too, but Weird seems to encourage bad behavior.

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

Growing Hope

Campos Seguros combats sexual assault in the Watsonville farmworker community Farm work was a way of life for Rocio Camargo, who grew up in Watsonville as the daughter of Mexican immigrants. Her parents met while working the fields 30 years ago, and her father went on to run Fuentes Berry Farms.

 

Cardinal Grand Cross in the Sky

Following Holy Week (passion, death and burial of the Pisces World Teacher) and Easter Sunday (Resurrection Festival), from April 19 to the 23, the long-awaited and discussed Cardinal Cross of Change appears in the sky, composed of Cardinal signs Aries, Libra, Cancer, and Capricorn, with planets (13-14 degrees) Uranus (in Aries), Jupiter (in Cancer), Mars (in Libra) and Pluto (in Capricorn), an actual geometrical square or cross configuration. Cardinal signs mark the seasons of change, initiating new realities.

 

Sugar: The New Tobacco?

Proposed bill would require warning labels on sugary drinks Will soda and other saccharine libations soon come with a health warning? They will if it’s up to our state senator, Bill Monning (D-Carmel). On Feb. 27, Monning proposed first-of-its-kind legislation that would require a consumer warning label be placed on sugar-sweetened beverages sold in California. SB 1000, also known as the Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Safety Warning Act, was proposed to provide vital information to consumers about the harmful effects of consuming sugary drinks, such as sodas, sports drinks, energy drinks, and sweetened teas.

 

Animal Magnetism

Bear, mouse dare to be friends in charming ‘Ernest and Celestine’ It’s not exactly Romeo and Juliet. It’s not even a romance, although it is a love story about two individuals separated by prejudice who find the courage to form an unshakable bond despite the rules and traditions that keep them apart.
Sign up for Tomorrow's Good Times Today
Upcoming arts & events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

Foodie File: Red Apple Cafe

Breakfast takes center stage at Gracia Krakauer's Red Apple Cafe Before they moved to Aptos, Gracia and her husband Dan Krakauer would visit friends in Santa Cruz County and eat at the Red Apple Café all the time. Then they moved up here from Santa Monica five years ago, and bought the Aptos location (there’s a separate one in Watsonville) from the family who owned it for two decades.

 

How would you feel about a tech industry boom in Santa Cruz?

I feel like it would ruin the small old-town feeling of Santa Cruz. It wouldn’t be the same Surf City kind of vacation town that it is. Antoinette BennettSanta Cruz | Construction Management

 

Best of Santa Cruz County

The 2013 Santa Cruz County Readers' Poll and Critics’ Picks It’s our biggest issue of the year, and in it, your votes—more than 6,500 of them—determined the winners of The Best of Santa Cruz County Readers’ Poll. New to the long list of local restaurants, shops and other notables that captured your interest: Best Beer Selection, Best Locally Owned Business, Best Customer Service and Best Marijuana Dispensary. In the meantime, many readers were ever so chatty online about potential new categories. Some of the suggestions that stood out: Best Teen Program and Best Web Design/Designer. But what about: Dog Park, Church, Hotel, Local Farm, Therapist (I second that!) or Sports Bar—not to be confused with Bra. Our favorite suggestion: Best Act of Kindness—one reader noted Café Gratitude and the free meals it offered to the Santa Cruz Police Department in the aftermath of recent crimes. Perhaps some of these can be woven into next year’s ballot, so stay tuned. In the meantime, enjoy the following pages and take note of our Critics’ Picks, too, beginning on page 91. A big thanks for voting—and for reading—and an even bigger congratulations to all of the winners. Enjoy.  -Greg Archer, EditorBest of Santa Cruz County Readers’ Poll INDEX

 

Trout Gulch Vineyards

Cinsault 2012—la grande plage diurne The most popular wines on store shelves are those most generally known and available—Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, which are all superb for sure. But when you come across a more unusual varietal, like Trout Gulch Vineyards’ Cinsault ($18), it opens up a whole new world.