SCOTTS VALLEY—Santa Cruz County’s chief law enforcement official, and its District Attorney, had a message for anyone thinking about burglarizing homes in evacuated communities: if you are caught, you will be arrested and prosecuted.
Law enforcement officials have increased their numbers by almost tenfold since the evacuation orders were given, looking for looters and people violating evacuation orders, Sheriff Jim Hart said.
Hart said that 90 officers are now patrolling the areas that include Scotts Valley, Bonny Doon, San Lorenzo Valley and Bounder Creek.
So far, Hart said, eight people have been arrested for looting, including some who were trying to steal an outdoor heating system.
The Sheriff’s Office on Friday announced the arrest of five looters.
“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.”
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 that 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,” Hart said.
The law enforcement efforts do not stop with looking for looters, Hart said. They are also making sure that everyone is adhering to stay-away orders, he said.
“Quite a number” of people have already been arrested on related charges, Hart 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 said.
He acknowledged that residents are understandably 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.”