Santa Cruz County’s chief law enforcement officials had a message for anyone thinking about burglarizing homes of evacuees: if caught, you will be arrested and prosecuted.
Law enforcement has increased its numbers by almost tenfold since Cal Fire handed down evacuation orders in response to the CZU Complex of fires ravaging the Santa Cruz Mountains, Santa Cruz County Sheriff Jim Hart said.
Hart said that 90 officers are now patrolling the areas that include Scotts Valley, Bonny Doon, San Lorenzo Valley and Boulder Creek.
So far, Hart said, eight people have been arrested for looting in the CZU zone, including some who were trying to steal an outdoor heating system.
“It takes a special person to wake up in the morning and say, ‘You know what? I’m going to go victimize and traumatize people who have already been through everything that this community has been through,’” Hart told reporters Sunday. “I have no empathy and no patience for someone who is going to come into our community and steal from people who have been evacuated and victimized and traumatized.”
Santa Cruz County District Attorney Jeff Rosell said that anyone arrested faces several charges, including trespassing, burglary and looting.
“I’m here to tell you, I guarantee you, the district attorney’s office is going to put the full weight of its authority and power behind the prosecution of those people,” Rosell said.
In one case, Hart said, someone broke into a Cal Fire truck and stole a firefighter’s wallet.
“I can’t imagine a bigger lowlife than breaking into somebody who is helping protect this community, breaking into his car, and taking his wallet and then charging up a bunch of credit card charges and taking money out of his bank account,” Hart said. “It is just mind-boggling that somebody would have the audacity to do that.”
A detective is investigating the stolen-wallet case, Hart said.
“I am confident that we are going to find that person, and when we do, we’re going to keep them in the county jail, and we’re going to hand that case over to the DA, and the DA is going to hammer this guy,” he added.
Law enforcement efforts do not stop with looking for looters. Hart said he also has deputies making sure that everyone is adhering to stay-away orders.
“Quite a number” of people have already been arrested for violating the mandate, he said.
“The order is, if it’s not police or fire, you’re going to stop that car, and if they are not tied to that area, they are going to go to jail,” Hart explained.
The sheriff said it’s understandable that residents upset about their homes. But the narrow roads that wind through many of the mountain communities are blocked in places by downed power lines, telephone poles, trees and burned-out cars, he said.
“It’s just not safe to be on those roads,” Hart said. “And then it’s blocking Cal Fire’s ability to get in and around the fire area as they need to.”