By Carrie Spitler
In their latest attempt to clean up Pacific Avenue, the Santa Cruz Police Department (SCPD) and the city district attorney have decided to ban repeat criminal offenders from the downtown area.
The police department’s new Stay-Away Ordinance targets repeat perpetrators of serious crimes which occurred on or around Pacific Avenue. Those people, referred to by police as “P-Cases,” can be arrested if they violate the ordinance by entering the downtown area bound by Front, Center, Laurel, and Water Streets. Criminals are labeled as P-Cases after an individual case-by-case review, according to SCPD Spokesperson Zach Friend.
“At some point you gotta say, when is enough, enough?” Friend said.
Friend pointed to Santa Cruz resident Kriston Carter’s February hold-up of La Vie! restaurant as a catalyst for the creation of the ordinance. In the four days after Carter’s release from police custody he was arrested three times, including once for attempting to steal a car.
In the wake of Carter’s crime spree, District Attorney Bob Lee publicly stated his support for the ordinance, encouraging the SCPD to begin putting together P-Case files.
While the SCPD has a blessing from the District Attorney to enforce the Stay-Away ordinance, some local residents have raised legal and moral questions.
“I just don’t see how that could be legal,” a downtown resident, who asked to be identified as Urich, said of the ordinance. Although Urich doesn’t believe anyone should be barred from a public street, he agrees that something needs to be done about the substance abuse and crime on and around Pacific Avenue. He also blames the high concentration of criminals in downtown Santa Cruz partly on nearby cities’ attempts to clean up their own neighborhoods.
“There are also issues with other cities adopting similar ordinances forcing people to move,” Urich said. “That’s why our city is the way it is.”
Despite Urich’s rationale, Friend said he is unaware of other cities using methods similar to the Stay-Away Ordinance.
Literary Guillotine owner David Watson considers Pacific Avenue tame compared to nearby, larger cities like San Francisco and San Jose. Watson stressed that, while he hasn’t been personally affected by crime downtown, bookstore customers have expressed misgivings about the area.
“I hear complaints fairly often from clientele that come into the store,” Watson said, “and I think, how can that be? It seems so minimal.” However, Watson does believe that something should be done in extreme cases like Kriston Carter’s because of the strain his crimes put on city resources.
Banning serious, repeat offenders from downtown is particularly important to the SCPD because of the past few months’ series of assaults against women, according to Friend. However, Urich believes that curbing violence and drug abuse on Pacific Avenue can only come from increased communication between residents and officers.
“I think that the police should open dialogue with businesses and residents,” he said. “They should develop a better relationship with the people who are downtown.”