Santa Cruz residents uneasy with ICE's gang help

June 9, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
In Santa Cruz, people are worried about the rise in crime and gang violence, but they are also worried about the latest stagey to fight it. The local police department is getting help from the federal government and it makes some folks in the coastal community uneasy.

Santa Cruz will be getting additional help from the Drug Enforcement Administration, FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms agencies.

For the first time, four federal agencies are partnering with the city of Santa Cruz all at once. The police chief admits he needs the help.

"We've had a number of homicides, we have had a number of gang-related violent events here in the city and we are looking to make huge strides in taking these people off the street," says Chief Howard Skerry.

In the past seven months, police say a high school junior was murdered by gang members, anarchists vandalized the city's downtown, and a U.C. Santa Cruz researcher had his brakes tampered with.

The FBI's domestic terrorism team is investigating two of the events, but I.C.E. is helping with the gang problem.

"I absolutely think it's necessary," says Deborah Elston from Santa Cruz Neighbors Inc.

More I.C.E. agents in town, worries some members of the Hispanic community.

"You're really combining the issue of immigration and the issue of gang violence, which are two separate issues and we believe require two separate strategies," says O.T. Quintero from Barrios Unidos.

At this community meeting Wednesday night, the distrust is with I.C.E. agents. Residents wrote their concerns and questions cards and handed them over to police at the meeting.

One question on a card asked, "Will they question or arrest the average person who might be out on the street looking for work?"

"That's not the mission. That's not the mission at all. This is a gang team," says Department Police Chief Rick Martinez.

Santa Cruz has been a sanctuary city since the 80s, which means city leaders do not condone immigration raids of any kind, but it does not mean they can stop federal agents from doing them.

City leaders insist there is nothing to fear even now, but many residents left the meeting unconvinced.


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