SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (KION) A growing national movement amid the protests to end police brutality and systemic racism is a call to defund local police departments.
“If we come out of this with a budget that looks substantially like it did before, we have not paid attention to the national conversation,” co-chair of Democratic Socialists of America Santa Cruz Jeb Purucker said.
However, Santa Cruz Police Chief Andy Mills said locally defunding could have severe consequences. Mills said his department responds to more than 100,000 calls a year, yet its staffing level is below law enforcement recommendations. There are about 90 Santa Cruz Police officers and Mills said there should be roughly 120.
Mills cited the usefulness of equipment, like the federally purchased BearCat, that police used to safely rescue injured officers in the Ben Lomond ambush that killed Santa Cruz County Sheriff Sgt. Damon Gutzwiller.
“Our officers went in there with the realization they might have to face someone throwing a pipe bomb at them. That is exactly the purpose of that armored vehicle,” Mills said.
Advocates for reform say abolishing the police will be a long term
process that starts with re-allocating funds to strengthen
social services, education, housing and mental health programs.
“We need a society where we approach our problems with care, not violence,” Purucker said.
Those in favor of defunding police, like the Democratic Socialists of Santa Cruz say cops are not equipped to respond to a majority of the calls they show up to.
“88 percent of the calls they respond to are non-violent property crimes. These aren’t things you need to bring a gun into the situation to handle,” Purucker said.
“Who responds to the homeless calls? The police. Who has people out in the field doing homeless response? The police. Who does mental health stuff? The police. I would love for someone else to step up to that. Where are they? Where have they been?” Mills said.
Advocates for reform argue the only option is for voters to re-build the system.
“The idea that we can train the racism out of the system or something like that...No. It's structural. It's built into what policing is,” Purucker said.
Chief Mills said in just the last few weeks several changes have been made to improve community policing, like banning carotid restraint chokehold and are in the process of eliminating predictive policing and use of facial recognition technology.