When Fear Grips the Soul


The data shows the reality of a flat or declining crime rate in Santa Cruz. Why then does crime feel so overwhelming and oppressive? Many people in this community, deal with this feeling of dread and fear. There are a few reasons I believe we feel this way.

  • Over the past several decades, there is an abnormally high amount of reported and unreported property crime per capita in Santa Cruz. I recognize some crimes are reported; many are not.  Underreported crime is prevalent nationwide. See the (National Crime Victims Survey) Federal data shows that 36% of property crime is reported to the police.  Victims traditionally report stolen vehicles, while petty theft and minor vandalism are under-reported.
  • Victimization is painful. When someone violates your privacy or takes your property, even in small ways, the victim feels unsafe. Our feelings are exacerbated as one hears about similar events from neighbors and strangers in person or on social media. Victims remember their loss for years, and that sense of loss magnifies with additional examples of victimization. I spoke to a person this past weekend with PTSD from being the victim of crime decades ago, and even disorder triggers fear.
  • Crime is discussed widely in the office, the political arena, at coffee, on the front porch, floating over a wave on a longboard and most importantly on social media. Social media is a powerful communication tool.
  • Social media can, however, have a profound impact on our feelings of safety. Recently several studies were conducted regarding the effect of fear of crime and the use of social media. (See Fear of crime)  We used to hear of crime anecdotally or a blurb in the paper if severe enough. Now hearing about a crime is an all-consuming fact of life.  Even the mainstream news media parrots social media.
  • Think about it. When a neighbor’s bike got stolen, it was the scuttlebutt of the neighborhood. Now we hear about it, read about it on three different social media sites, see hundreds of comments and wring our hands not recognizing the impact this has on us, our children and our happiness. Indeed, the real culprits are the thieves. Social media intensifies the effect on our psyche.
  • Social media is not all bad news. Social media can be a powerful tool to reduce crime by educating potential victims on how to prevent crime and spread the word about increases or decreases in crime and the identity of suspects. Fear mongering, however entertaining it might be, is more harmful than helpful(Fear of crime and social media)
  • Poverty is evident in Santa Cruz. Crime is typically higher in populations where there is poverty. That does not excuse theft. Some people also confuse an impoverished appearance as criminals. Appearance and behavior cannot be conflated.
  • Let’s be clear; not all homeless are criminals. It is true, however, that some of the homeless are disproportionately responsible for crime. A recent piece of research by our crime analyst found that arrested suspects in violent crime were 18 times more likely to be homeless. Homeless people were also 20 times more likely to be the victim of crime. Homeless victimization here mirrors research that demonstrates crime clusters by location, population, and victimology. Researcher-John Eck
  • Drug addiction is enormous in Santa Cruz. The county recently stated that there are more than 1,100 intravenous drug users in our county seeking assistance. Drug addiction is expensive, and they have to feed that habit or get sick.  The need for money to buy drugs results in high theft rates.

Next, how we as a community can reduce the frequency of crime in Santa Cruz.

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