Seaside violence raises questions from supporters of ousted police chief Cercone.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Gunshots shattered the relative still in Seaside Dec. 1, when witnesses reported hearing up to 20 shots fired on the 1400 block of Kenneth Street. The bang-up left 20-year-old Christopher Joaquin Glenn dead, and marked the second Seaside homicide in a streak of at least nine shootings in the past seven months.
The recent violence sharpens anxiety over the absence of Police Chief Steve Cercone. While not officially fired, Cercone – who’s been on paid administrative leave since Aug. 10 – received a Nov. 25 letter from City Manager Ray Corpuz, informing him that his contract won’t be renewed when it expires in May.
“Never in the history of Seaside has anything come close to the mess that’s happening right now in your police department, and it’s on your watch,” Lance Strauss told the City Council Dec. 3. “Chief Cercone knew how to reduce the crime rate in Seaside.”
Strauss was one of eight people that night who criticized the city’s handling of the Cercone issue and demanded closer scrutiny of Corpuz, who was hired in 2005 after a controversial ouster from his city manager position in Tacoma, Wash.
Long-time SSPD volunteer Laura Vierra resigned in protest. “I turn in my badge untarnished,” she said. “So please, Mr. Corpuz, do not touch it.”
Several of the speakers blamed the recent violence on Cercone’s absence, often to audience applause. “It wouldn’t have been like this if Steve was watching,” Paul Owen said.
But Interim Police Chief Stephen Willis says Seaside’s 2009 murder rate is within the normal range for recent years, and much lower than its peak in the early ’90s. The city had one homicide each in 2008 and 2007, none in 2006 or 2005, and two in 2004. “There’s no such thing as a good homicide, but I don’t see two being really high or out of the ordinary,” Willis says. “I don’t think the people of Seaside are any less safe today than they were six months ago or this time last year. It’s unrealistic to attribute any specific crime with one specific person in the department.”
The SSPD has stepped up its presence in high-crime areas, Willis adds, noting that only one of the five officers on administrative leave was assigned to patrol.
Cercone is coy about whether he could’ve prevented the violence. “I would obviously like to go back there and direct some necessary action,” he says. “I feel very bad for the people of Seaside for the violence that is going on right now.”
The chief won’t say whether he’ll litigate over his contract non-renewal. His attorney, Michael Stamp, did not respond to requests for comment.
Attorney Rick Bolanos of Liebert Cassidy Whitmore, which is counseling the city, says the notice of non-renewal is in compliance with Cercone’s employment agreement. For now, Cercone remains on paid administrative leave.