Summer has brought another outbreak of violence in Santa Cruz County — a tourist shot by a robber in San Lorenzo Park, a gang-related killing on Santa Cruz’s Mission Street, a shooting in the Seabright neighborhood also attributed to gangs, and a female gangster shooting a man with former gang ties at the entrance to Ramsay Park in Watsonville
Arrests were made in the three gang-related shootings. In the Mission Street killing, suspects were arrested in part through video surveillance and cooperation from the victim’s family. In the Murray Street gang violence, arrests came after the CHP followed and finally halted a speeding car. And in the Watsonville shooting, the woman was arrested within seven minutes after witnesses spotted her car leaving the crime scene.
The San Lorenzo Park shooting remains unsolved.
We’ve written extensively in the past about gang violence and crime that comes from the prevalence of hard drugs in the community — and the challenges for law enforcement to deal with issues that can appear overwhelming.
Public safety is the No. 1 issue in Santa Cruz County today, dwarfing the uneven economic recovery. We often hear in online comments or letters to the editor, that punishment needs to be more of a deterrent and policing needs to be stepped up in terms of heading off violence before it occurs.
Both are complex and controversial policies and not easily implemented. And this debate is making national headlines as well.
On the issue of locking people up, especially for drug-related crimes, U.S. Attorney Gen. Eric Holder this week proposed making the federal justice system fairer by changing the system of mandatory minimum sentences. Holder, who wants to sidestep Congress and also save money on prison costs, said he has instructed federal prosecutors to, when appropriate, tweak charges filed against lower level nonviolent offenders so that their sentences won’t be as draconian.
California already has been dealing with spiraling prison populations and costs by releasing nonviolent offenders into county custody. One of the suspects arrested in the Seabright shooting was on “community supervision” in Santa Cruz County after having been deemed by the state to be a non-violent, non-serious, non-high-risk sex offender.
The other crime-related story was the decision by a federal judge in New York regarding New York City’s stop-and-frisk program, credited with the city’s plummeting crime rates. Judge Shira Scheindlin said the program violated the constitutional rights of minority citizens and the city was “deliberately indifferent” to cops illegally detaining and frisking minority residents.
The judge did not strike down the program — only require the city to demonstrate it doesn’t discriminate against Hispanics and African-Americans and that constitutional guarantees against unreasonable search and seizure are upheld. Under the Fourth Amendment, police can legally stop and detain a person only when they have a reasonable suspicion the person is committing, has committed or is about to commit a crime. Stop and frisk is a strategy that encourages NYC cops to stop and question mainly minority citizens first and to provide the reasons afterward.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is leaving office soon, dismissed the ruling and vowed to appeal. The city has steadfastly defended stop and frisk as justified because minority citizens in certain areas of the city demonstrably commit more crimes.
So here’s the question: Should police keep citizens safe, especially in minority neighborhoods or crime ridden areas, by aggressively stopping and detaining potential suspects? The key is whether there is a “reasonable suspicion” of criminal activity. We’d like to know more about just how police and courts make this definition.