Community weighs in as Santa Cruz searches for top cop

Santa Cruz searching for new chief,...

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. - Santa Cruz is looking for a new police chief, and Thursday night, city officials hosted a second community meeting to see what residents want from the next top cop.

Dennis Smith retired from the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office and he said he understands how tough it is for those in law enforcement.

“I was in the business for 35 years all together. It wears on you, you know. At times, admittedly, it’s hard to keep your enthusiasm,” Smith said.

Smith said he hopes the city finds someone who’s familiar with the police department.

“I have a little bit of apprehension -- somebody coming in from way outside and then trying to get up to speed and have an understanding of the needs and wants and the desire of the community,” Smith said.

Smith was among a dozen residents who came to a community meeting Thursday to tell the city manager what they want from the next top cop, especially after several incidents that put the police department under scrutiny.

Residents talked about the officer-involved shooting of a mentally ill man in October, and most recently the department’s split with federal immigration agents after people were detained based on their immigration status during an MS-13 gang bust.

City officials said the current political climate calls for more community outreach.

“To build trust with the community is particular important, particularly with the many changes that have occurred as it relates to immigration policy,” city manager Martin Bernal said.

Smith agreed and said the police department also needs more support in general.

“We go from a 50-some-odd-thousand citizens’ community, and during the summer, we are 150,000 people. (We) don’t have the resources to deal with the influx,” Smith said.

After getting community input, the city will move to the recruitment phase. It will look at both candidates both inside and outside the department. The city is looking to fill the position by July.


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