The core Community-Oriented Policing philosophy was first enacted more than 20 years ago under the direction of then-Police Chief Steve Belcher.
“We wanted to work with the community more. The department should be an open book,” said Belcher, who helped institute a proactive problem-solving response to neighborhood issues that emphasized community partnerships.
Up until that point, SCPD had been a traditional police department focused on response times and making arrests. But rising crime rates coupled with tensions locally — shootings, immigration raids, out-of-control beach parties — and around the country, including the 1992 L.A. riots, led Belcher and SCPD to reassess their policing model.
SCPD initiated Community-Oriented Policing by realigning the strategies and practices of its officers to engage and collaborate with residents and business owners to reduce and prevent crime, build trust and create mutual respect.
Community-Oriented Policing also brought focus to the root cause of issues. Rather than repeatedly dealing with the same call for service, officers gave new attention to problem solving in order to prevent the issues from reoccurring.
“Officers became responsible not just for responding to calls, but for solving the problems the calls reported,” Belcher said. “It was an evolutionary process.”
Early Community-Oriented Policing initiatives in Santa Cruz included:
- Specifically assigned beats for officers so they could get to know neighborhoods and residents could become familiar with them.
- Launching the first Citizen Police Academy classes to offer transparency about how policing works in Santa Cruz.
- Installing dashcams in patrol cars to record police work.
- Establishing civilian oversight for enhanced accountability.
- Partnering with other agencies — such as the City Parks and Recreation Department, State Parks, the state department of Alcohol Beverage Control and more — to find creative solutions to problems.
- Starting Neighborhood Watch programs, led by the Community Policing Coordinator, who was Officer Jim Howes.
“We had to close that missing link,” Belcher said. “It sounds very simple but it was revolutionary and it paid dividends.”