With 20 years of experience, Rick Martinez will be put to the test as Santa Cruz’s new deputy police chief. Photo by Rosario Serna.
With 20 years of experience, Rick Martinez will be put to the test as Santa Cruz’s new deputy police chief. Photo by Rosario Serna.

Gazing out the window of his new office at passers-by on sunlit Center Street, Rick Martinez cracks a joke at his predicament.

“It’s unfair that I should have to sit up here and watch people go to and from the Boardwalk all day,” he said.

But the few personal possessions littered about the room, and a single “Congratulations!” balloon floating near his desk serve as signs that he’s been so busy as the city’s new deputy police chief, he hasn’t even had time to unpack.

After roughly two months of searching, the Santa Cruz Police Department (SCPD) has found an officer to become the new deputy police chief. Rick Martinez, a 20-year veteran of SCPD, was promoted to fill the position last month after former Deputy Police Chief Patty Sapone retired in February.

The move comes at a time when the department is dealing with an increased level of gang activity, the investigation into the May Day riot, and a significant budget deficit.

“It is a testament to our department to have the caliber of applicants we were graced with for deputy chief,” Police Chief Howard Skerry said. “Deputy Chief Martinez has embodied the work ethic, commitment to service, and community values that are hallmarks of our department.”

Martinez was chosen from a pool of four candidates, all of whom met the extensive criteria to apply for the position. A board of supervisors, including the other Deputy Police Chief Kevin Vogel, was tasked with the responsibility of choosing the most qualified candidate.

“Among other things, the basic requirements included three years minimum in management, a breadth of understanding in regards to the department itself, and to be a registered citizen of the city of Santa Cruz,” SCPD spokesman Zach Friend said. “Generally, to have moved up to this point, one would have many years of experience across everything the department does.”

Martinez launched his career with the SCPD in 1991 as a full-time officer. As he worked his way up the department ladder to lieutenant, Martinez bore witness to the good and bad of Santa Cruz, dealing with everything from homicide scenes to local political policy. Prior to his promotion to deputy chief, Martinez implemented several changes to local law, including alcohol policies and stricter punishments for failing to appear in court.

“In the 20 years with the department, I’ve worked as [everything from] a detective on street crimes to being a field supervisor,” Martinez said. “My last job was oversight of the downtown area and the SWAT team.”

Martinez’s promotion means he is responsible for the department’s administrative matters, including the department’s budget, investigations, internal affairs, staff hiring, and human resources. Martinez would like to maintain a continued police presence downtown, reallocate resources to make the department more efficient, and embrace creative ways for rooting out gang members.

“Federal assistance is one way for us to tackle the [gang] problem,” Martinez said. “We’re not looking to call in helicopters to circle the city or anything like that. I don’t believe the [gang] situation needs measures like that.”

Martinez also wants the department to get more in touch with the city and university, believing better relations with the community will spur more local involvement.

“It’s important for us to better understand the community we serve, and to work on improving communications with the UCSC students,” Martinez said. “The community rightly holds us to a high level of expectation for service, and we’re at fault if they are not free from fear.”

Meanwhile, Police Chief Howard Skerry is confident that Martinez will be able to handle any issue that comes his way.

“The community can be proud of the new generation of leadership coming through the ranks at our agency,” Skerry said.