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Public safety is local government's primary responsibility. Communities thrive when people come together in public spaces, fostering an atmosphere of common respect and support that provides a foundation for community well-being. It starts with people feeling safe in their neighborhoods and downtowns.

Unfortunately, Santa Cruz County experiences a high number of low-level repeat offenders who create an unwelcome atmosphere. Many of these individuals consume a disproportionate amount of public services and cycle in and out of the justice system.

Many of these individuals suffer from substance abuse, are experiencing mental health conditions or homelessness. But what they all have in common is a willingness to engage in lawless behavior that places them and others at risk.  The vast majority of individuals with behavioral health issues and/or who deal with housing instability do not create these kinds of impacts. However, a handful appear unwilling or unable to choose a different path and refuse offers of assistance or help, including enrollment in County behavioral health programs.


In a survey conducted by the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office of local business owners, 83 percent reported calling the police at least once in the last year, and more than a quarter called 10 or more times. Ninety percent reported customer complaints about aggressive persons, and 43 percent reported having closed temporarily due to aggressive or threatening behavior. During the County's recent strategic planning process, safety was residents' top concern.

Concerted efforts can make a positive difference by assembling a team of law enforcement professionals, behavioral health clinicians, social workers and public health representatives to work intensively with these individuals. County programs exist that may be of help, but they are fundamentally designed to help people who are receptive to services. This program focused on those initially resistant to help.

By working with local jurisdictions, these focused intervention teams would identify clients based on an individual's actions for intensive police supervision and support services. This approach is supported by evidence and research and would offer positive incentives to clients, including employment training, housing assistance, behavioral health treatment and more.


In response to these and others issues brought forth during County budget hearings, the Board of Supervisors placed Measure G, a half-cent sales tax in the unincorporated area, on the November ballot. If approved, the Board has directed that approximately $1 million annually be prioritized to implement this program. County staff have estimated it could be operating within weeks following the election.

"We're going to need additional funding to get this done," Sheriff Jim Hart said. "We need clinicians out there working with law enforcement, both on the substance use disorder side and on the mental health side. These teams will work cooperatively in the unincorporated areas and the four cities, receiving referrals from local law enforcement and clinicians, as well as community members, to do early intervention with people whose behavior is escalating and may become violent."

"We can make a difference and get these people the help they need, and lift up our community in the process."