Editor's note: This is a story from the Mercury News archives about a day in the life of Sgt. Loran "Butch" Baker and his partner patrolling downtown Santa Cruz in a stepped-up crime prevention effort. It was originally published on July 31, 2002. Baker was one of two officers shot and killed in Santa Cruz on Feb. 26.
Sgt. Loran "Butch" Baker has been working Pacific Avenue -- downtown Santa Cruz's eccentric main drag -- for 17 years. During the past year, he's witnessed a troubling transformation.
Pacific Avenue was once a peaceful place where street people and shoppers mixed mostly without incident. But recently residents, especially merchants, say the situation has spun out of control. The once laid-back street scene is now pocked by drug dealers and mean-spirited loiterers, who are especially abusive to women and gays.
Baker's street -- his beat -- has become the front line in a war over the city's soul.
"Seems that before even the criminals had a code of ethics, but now some of the young people out there just have a general lack of respect for others, " Baker says. "They're in your face."
Even the Santa Cruz City Council, often criticized for being too warm and fuzzy on social issues, has had enough. The council voted 5-2 last week to pass a series of laws designed to stop aggressive panhandling and restore civility downtown. They take effect Sept. 12.
The vote has been characterized as everything from "utterly fascist" to "it's about time." The tension on the street is seething.
On Monday, a Mercury News reporter and photographer tagged along with Baker to get an eye-opening glimpse of what takes place on his street.
Before his shift ends, the 40-year-old Baker will be called a "new Nazi, " help chase down a man with a dagger, and arrest a felon after the man allegedly licked a woman on the face.
Baker's first stop this morning is at the hospitality office of the Downtown Association, where three full-time and three part-time workers help visitors and serve as a dozen extra eyes and ears for police.
"We want to be able to restore some balance to the downtown, " says Gina Ramirez, hospitality program supervisor.
She has also noticed an infusion of young people to Santa Cruz from other states -- mostly colder and rainier places such as Oregon, Washington, Connecticut and the Dakotas.
Many are men ages 18 to 27, she says. And that is the sex and age range of the people most likely to be selling drugs, panhandling and shouting sexist and anti-gay comments at passersby, Baker says.
Baker says the youths have smashed toilets and broken mirrors in the bathrooms of downtown restaurants and shops, forcing business owners to close them.
Baker, a graduate of San Jose's Bellarmine College Preparatory and Fresno City College, bristles at the self-anointed homeless activists who, he says, turn every arrest into a major civil rights violation.
A month ago, he says, a man was arrested at Cooper Street and Pacific after he punched Baker and officer Derrick Phelps in the face after trying to grab Baker's gun. He also took Baker's radio and hit community service officer Kayla Gray in the face. The man, he says, had been throwing slices of bread on the sidewalk and was asked to stop when he became belligerent.
Activists have said the man was arrested for throwing bread crumbs and was repeatedly beaten until his pants fell down.
"Totally absurd, " Baker says.
As the brouhaha over "the new rules" played out before the council for the past month, police say they have slowly been targeting sidewalk merchants and hackysack players, some of whom double as drug dealers and frequent the area outside Borders bookstore. On Friday, Baker helped arrest six young people dealing marijuana.
Often, he says, street-level dealers sell pot to feed their heroin habits.
Baker and Gray are friendly with many of the longtime panhandlers of Pacific -- even the man at Pacific and Cathcart who keeps telling Gray, "I still want to marry you."
Gray, 25, watches as another panhandler tries to chase after a woman in a New York City T-shirt who smiles at him as she walks by.
"I love New York, " the man says as he begins to follow the woman. "And I need a date." Gray tells him to sit down, noting that police have been getting too many complaints about panhandlers hassling women.
"OK, " the man says. "I understand." A few minutes later, Baker and Gray hear Mr. Twister, a local legend who used to feed parking meters dressed as a clown, shouting at the top of his lungs, demanding to be arrested and holding out his hands. "I could use some free publicity, " he says.
Officers tell Mr. Twister just to walk away.
After lunch, Baker and Gray head back to the Borders corner, where a man wears a jacket emblazoned with a message: "Employment is a Crime Against Humanity."
As Baker talks to a group gathered there, Miguel Molina, 20, complains that police have a double standard. "If you're homeless, you get messed with, " he says. "If you're not, they leave you alone."
Molina, who is from Sonoma County, says he can't understand why he was given a $162 ticket for drawing with chalk on the sidewalk. "It's just art that washes off, " he says.
A few minutes later, Baker goes across the street to tell panhandler Charles Jensen, 59, that he's violating the law because he's 10 feet from a doorway. Jensen complains about the new, younger breed of panhandler.
Jensen holds a sign saying, "Do you have a random act of kindness today?" He said, "One kid came over, looked at the my sign and kicked over my cup."
A longtime panhandler who calls himself Ugly Jim says he had his problems with the young panhandlers, too. Lots of youths panhandling people on movie lines make as much as $300 a day.
"They complain if they don't make at least $60, " says Jim, who spent 7 1/2 years in prison for being part of a gang that stole Chevrolet Suburbans and took them to Belize.
Moments later, Baker learns of a man across from the Metro bus station who approached a woman and licked her on the face and shouted at one other passerby.
"I just want to go home and take my medicine, " Victor Green, 42, tells Baker.
But after smelling alcohol on his breath, Baker and another officer arrest him on suspicion of public intoxication. "We'll just be back here later if we don't, " Baker says.
About 10 minutes later, Baker joins a chase after receiving a report of a suspicious man who ran away from police officers just before they asked to search his backpack. Officers capture him on the river levee after he's caught removing his clothing to change his appearance. Police say Michael Montgomery, 32, had a dagger in his pack.
Baker and Gray head in their patrol car to the county jail to pick up Green's arrest report. Along the way, a woman complains that a young man is aggressively demanding money from people.
Because he panhandled within three feet of passersby, Gray tickets him. "I was just telling people I was hungry because I missed the feeding at St. Francis, " complains Justin Boyer, 23. "You guys are just trying to give me so many tickets that I'll sit in jail. You guys harass homeless people as a class. You're new Nazis."
In recent weeks, Boyer says, he has received $800 in tickets for panhandling and illegal camping. "I tear the things up anyway, " he says. "We use them as toilet paper."
Gray gets a dose of verbal abuse when Baker tickets a man for riding his bike on the sidewalk after being told not to.
"You're just a miserable person, " the man tells her. "That's why no one likes you." Gray says she's been called "many worse things" on a daily basis. "But never 'miserable,' " she says with a laugh.
Baker and Gray spend the next few hours responding to a report of a "lifeless person" (a passed-out drunk), checking out a report of a man shouting about child molesters downtown, cleaning the urine from a prisoner in the back of Baker's patrol car and, of course, writing reports.
"It was a quiet day, " Baker says.