Last month the Santa Cruz County Criminal Justice Council (CJC) announced they won a Criminal Justice and Public Safety Achievement Award from the National Association of Counties for its 2021 report on local law enforcement policing policies and procedures.
The first of its kind in the country, the report is the culmination of 10 months of data collected by Applied Survey Research—a third-party organization—between the various law enforcement agencies in Santa Cruz County.
The National Association of Counties calls the report “a transparent look at law enforcement policies and provides a starting point for evaluation by local law enforcement, elected leaders and the communities they serve.”
“It demonstrates when community members bring issues to their local government and collaborate with law enforcement, it can have a positive impact that benefits everyone,” explains CJC and Santa Cruz City Councilmember Justin Cummings.
Cummings, also running for third district supervisor, worked on the report last year as a volunteer—Mayor Brunner appointed him to the council earlier this year.
“To be recognized across the country in a criminal justice category where there’s innovation occurring throughout the nation says a lot about [Santa Cruz County’s] ability to set the stage and lead on these issues,” explains CJC Chair and County Supervisor, Zach Friend.
The report aims to provide comprehensive studies of each county agency’s procedures—where they align, where they differ and where they can improve. Some findings: Every agency sanctions the practice of “de-escalation” and bans chokeholds, neck restraints and no-knock warrants.
Differences appear in independent auditing and oversight areas—the Santa Cruz Police Department is the only local agency participating in such a program.
The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors is exploring the possibility of an independent inspector general or oversight committee for the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office. The Sheriff’s Office has been riddled with numerous controversies over the last several years, including inmate deaths, sexual assault cases and accidental recording of meetings between lawyers and inmates which are federally protected as confidential. Officials expect to discuss the issue more later this month.
“The idea was to connect it with budget hearings because we’ll be making a financial allocation,” Friends says. “And those are held in mid-June.”
The 20-member CJC body—created over 30 years ago—is made up of prominent community leaders, including two county board supervisors, Sheriff Jim Hart and Mental Health Director Erik Riera.
It is currently working on a new report detailing local law enforcement agencies’ policies and procedures when dealing with mental and behavioral health calls and issues.
“It will look at how mental and behavioral health calls are handled,” Cummings explains. “And the experience of mental outreach workers in cities with people who are experiencing mental health issues.”
The new report is expected to be published sometime in November 2022.