Illustration by Rachel Edelstein

On a balmy Wednesday night, all was quiet on Ocean Street as members of neighborhood watch groups, including Ocean’s 11 and Take Back Santa Cruz, met with the Santa Cruz Police Department (SCPD) at the Sierra Room in the University Inn. The group talked about their most pertinent subject — preventing and addressing crime. About 30 people attended the event.

Take Back Santa Cruz is a neighborhood watch organization that deals with crime in Santa Cruz. Group leaders help the community get more involved with issues like drug control, gangs and prostitution. Ocean’s 11 is also a neighborhood watch group, named after the 11-block area from Ocean Street to the Westside of Santa Cruz.

Crime in Santa Cruz is a rising issue. SCPD recorded 53 burglary arrests in March alone, and the city faces ongoing problems with robbery, gang relations, trespassing and prostitution. Robbery in Santa Cruz increased by 32 percent from 2009 to 2010, while burglary has also risen 6 percent.

This has been particularly alarming to community watch groups. SCPD held a meeting on April 27 so the community could get more connected to its police officers. Police Lt. Larry Richard led the presentations.

“We’re a community police department,” he said. “This meeting today provides an opportunity for us to come out and bring a voice to our community.”

Richard emphasized the importance of contacting local authorities in the face of a threatening situation in the city.

“If you see something that doesn’t feel right, it probably is not,” Richard said. “Get out there and give us a call.”

Regina Henderson, organizer of Ocean’s 11, said robberies often occur in her neighborhood, and that community response is currently insufficient.

“I was one of eight people who were robbed in my area in the last few months,” Henderson said. “When I first started Ocean’s 11, no one in the neighborhood knew how often robbery occurred.”

Noting a lack of communication between neighbors, Henderson founded Ocean’s 11 with a few of her neighbors as a way to monitor neighborhood crime.

“Communication is key,” Henderson said. “Now we have a much better idea about [robbery] because of our communication.”

For Take Back Santa Cruz, being part of a neighborhood watch group allows members to get more active in watching out for crime.

“We’re sick and tired of complaining about crime,” said Analicia Cube, founder of Take Back Santa Cruz.

Take Back Santa Cruz sometimes takes action against crime in their community. Cube is especially fond of confronting drug dealers standing on a street corner, a tactic the group refers to as “positive loitering.”

“Positive loitering is when we get a group of people to come up to someone and ask them to leave politely,” she said. “We want them to know that if they stick around, we’re going to call the cops.”

The meeting emphasized safety and spotlighted areas in Santa Cruz that have inordinate amounts of crime. Some residents say the Eastside to Westside bridge is particularly crime-laden.

“I call that bridge ‘crackpipe bridge,’” said Regina Henderson, member of Ocean’s 11 in Santa Cruz, “because the first time I walked on it I saw someone smoking crack on it.”

City employee Marilyn Demartini expressed her safety concerns as a resident living on Broadway Street, and commended the Santa Cruz Police Department for their responsiveness to her issues.

“I always take an opportunity to attend events like these,” Demartini said. “The Santa Cruz Police Department has made a big improvement throughout the years. I’ve gotten to know a few police officers on a first name basis, and they remain very responsive to my issues. I like the idea that I can sit comfortably on my porch and have a cup of coffee with no worries about drug dealers or prostitutes walking by.”