Take Back Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz residents, business owners trying to take back Harvey West

Harley Gillespie holds a bottle full of heroin needles that he and his coworkers collected from the planter in front of his business on Coral Street on Thursday, April 8, 2010.


Renewed push from everyday citizens and business owners to raise awareness, encourage people to call 911 when they see crimes and urge city officials to keep pressure on hot spots.

Santa Cruz Sentinel Article (link to original article)

By:  J.M. Brown

Members of Take Back Santa Cruz are going a step further.

For months, they have been on the lookout for evidence of drug dealing to turn over to police and raise awareness about the city’s dark recesses. With video cameras in hand, they have walked into Pogonip between UC Santa Cruz and Highway 9, as well as secluded spots adjacent to the Highway 1 and Highway 9 intersections, to film drug dens in action.

They have taken photos of drug deals using their cell phones and called in suspect descriptions and license plates to police. When they entered one drug camp with police recently, there were men in suits with young people who looked like college students — not exactly the stereotype of a junkie.

Take Back Santa Cruz members say they’re not trying to be vigilantes. Rather, they say, they simply want to help police reclaim parts of the city overrun with crime.

Police Capt. Clark said their help has resulted in citations and arrests, but he didn’t have exact figures. Take Back Santa Cruz members don’t typically identify themselves as such when they call police, but Clark said any extra set of eyes and ears in Harvey West makes dealers feel uncomfortable.

Cube, the spokeswoman for the Take Back Santa Cruz, is well-aware of that. Some of the people Take Back Santa Cruz members have watched walk into the Pogonip presumably to buy drugs don’t look like transients and are not dressed for hiking.

“You see baby seats in the back of their cars,” she said. “Users are everyday people.”

Take Back Santa Cruz monitors have documented the circuitous route drug dealers take from the San Lorenzo River levee to Harvey West looking for business. Cube said the dealers travel from the new pedestrian and bike bridge over the San Lorenzo River through the River Street shopping plaza to Mora Street, where there is sometimes a drug camp near the St. Francis Soup Kitchen. Take Back Santa Cruz has dubbed it the “Rabbit Hole.”

From there, they say, dealers walk or bike across the Highway 1 overpass onto Evergreen Street, where they can walk into the Pogonip and Harvey West’s nooks and crannies. During a recent afternoon, a Sentinel reporter watched two young men walk into Harvey West and reappear on the levee later, leading a group of other men to the brush parallel to Highway 1.

“It’s an underbelly,” Cube said. “It’s so prevalent, but people don’t see it.”

Although Take Back Santa Cruz has been a public group, hosting “positive loitering” events on troublesome corners throughout town and posting video of a trash-strewn Evergreen Cemetery, the group is reluctant to reveal much about its monitoring activities. It also has held back posting many of its videos or photographs to its website until it can decide the best way to use them. The Sentinel has seen some of the material.

“We know who they are. They are pretty blatant,” Cube said of the dealers. “We know where they keep their drugs. The only real power we have in a sense is to call police.”

It’s too early to say whether the efforts of Take Back Santa Cruz are making a difference, but members believe every arrest spreads the word that Santa Cruz residents are not going to put up with drug dealing.

“At least we’re making it uncomfortable,” Cube said. “We’re passionate about it because we worked hard to be here.”


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