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Santa Cruz Citizens Want a Visible Police Chief

San Jose Mercury News via YellowBrix

September 23, 2010

SANTA CRUZ, CA – The next chief of police in Santa Cruz needs to be a people person.

That’s the conclusion a handful of city residents came to at a public input session regarding the search for a new police leader.

Education, good communication skills and a love of Santa Cruz also emerged as key characteristics for a chief.

“Have someone who knows Santa Cruz, because Santa Cruz is quite diverse,” said J.D. Sotelo, a longtime lower Ocean Street resident.

Police Chief Howard Skerry retired Sept. 1 after a 30-year career in law enforcement that was capped with nearly seven years leading the Santa Cruz force.

Kevin Vogel, who has spent more than two decades with the department, has been acting as interim chief since Skerry’s departure and has said he will apply for the permanent position. Applications for internal candidates are due Nov. 11, according to City Manager Martin Bernal.

The aim is to hire from within the department by December or, if a satisfactory candidate is not found within that group, widen the applicant pool to include law enforcement leaders from outside the city police force, Bernal said.

At Wednesday night’s city-sponsored forum, about a dozen residents discussed their hopes for a new chief.

“I want the chief to come out from wherever he is and be available,” said Diane Cohan, a police therapist and private detective who lives in Santa Cruz.

Creating more transparency within the department, putting Advertisement good cops on the street regardless of their rank, nurturing relations with neighborhood groups and pushing cases toward convictions were other ideals residents noted.

“Have the common sense to understand the community,” Beach Flats Community Center Director Reyna Ruiz said, pointing to an incident she views as culturally insensitive: the police department announced a new gang-targeting partnership with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Cinco de Mayo.

Bernal also shared some of the city’s needs in a police chief, who oversees a department with a $22 million budget and 91 sworn officers who handle 235 calls for service a day, according to figures from 2009.

“It has to be someone who can function as an executive,” Bernal said, adding those duties include managing one of the city’s largest departments, delegating authority to subordinates, handling a budget and being responsive. “They have to be out in the community to listen to concerns.”

City staff is seeking input from business owners, neighborhood organizations and other groups within Santa Cruz that will help form the evaluation criteria for the chief hiring process, Bernal said. Residents also may participate in an online survey about the chief search through the end of the month. Visit to for the English version or for the Spanish version.

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