Santa Cruz County launches new Focused Intervention Team to combat criminal activity

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (KGO) -- In Santa Cruz County, it isn't only beautiful views and the bustling boardwalk. Law enforcement officials acknowledge disruptive and criminal behavior is a big problem.

The county recently launched a new team of enforcement and mental health officials, who are dedicated to improving safety and to improving one's sense of self.

The new Focused Intervention Team, or FIT team for short, was launched in late January.

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Third District County Supervisor and Board Chair, Ryan Coonerty explained, "The FIT team is really innovative in that it's sheriff's deputies who will patrol county-wide, but we've paired them up with mental health workers."

The team of six, three deputies and three mental health experts, will focus on restoring public safety across the county and connecting people with much needed resources.

A welcome sight for long-time Santa Cruz neighbor, Lisa Teramo, and her dog Bailey.

"This is as late as I'm out with her," Teramo told ABC7 News cameras, at 6:30 p.m. Thursday night.

The 30 year resident said she noticed a shift in safety about five years ago.

"People are jacking cars, people are breaking into homes in broad daylight," she said. "Now you really have to be proactive."

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Teramo said it's common to either hear or witness theft, drug use and destruction. She added, "Nothing good happens after dark."

"Now it's a really revolving door here in town with the criminal activity," she said. "People get picked up, go to jail overnight perhaps, and they're let back out."

The need to end that cycle was identified by the County Board of Supervisors.

"We found the resources, the voters passed a new sales tax. We wanted to use that sales tax to improve public safety and this is how we're trying it," Supervisor Coonerty said.

The FIT team has already identified 30 people known to local law enforcement. Coonerty said there is some room to expand that number.

"They're generating a lot of calls for service," he said about the group of 30 individuals. "They've been offered services, they've declined those services, and they're having a huge impact on our community and we need to address them."

A release by the County of Santa Cruz reads, "Through high-frequency contacts (including in a custody setting) and evidence-based practices such as motivational interviewing, trauma-informed counseling and cognitive behavioral therapy, the County and partners hope to reduce public impacts and improve outcomes for FIT participants. FIT participants will also be connected to wraparound services including medical and food benefits, housing navigation services and more."

Others add the root of the problem is a lack of area resources.

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"Lack of funding for food, behavioral health, mental health and wellness. Then they get pushed into having to steal, fighting and crime," Boulder Creek resident, Lorato Anderson said.

The FIT team will first focus on the City of Santa Cruz, then to other parts of the county.

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