SANTA CRUZ — Planners of a downtown New Year's Eve parade say two undercover Santa Cruz police officers "infiltrated" public planning meetings for the grass-roots event.
On Friday, Santa Cruz police Lt. Rudy Escalanate admitted that the plainclothes officers attended the meetings, but he had a much different take on their attendance.
Santa Cruz canceled First Night celebrations this year, but the alternative "Last Night Santa Cruz DIY Parade" was created to take its place. It begins at 6 p.m. today at Laurel Street and Pacific Avenue.
In planning meetings in a Santa Cruz home, which were announced on the group's Web site lastnightdiy.org, two men attended three meetings and did not let on they were police officers, giving false names, phone numbers and e-mail addresses, said Wes Modes of Felton, an artist and carpenter who helped plan the parade.
Modes said that was an infiltration and said the officers were "profiling" people at the meeting.
Modes' charges brought an incredulous denial from Escalante, who said the officers did not profile anyone or "infiltrate" anything, but attended a public meeting about a public event with safety in mind.
The two plainclothes officers were photographed at a meeting, and their images were e-mailed to the Sentinel on Friday with a press release.
"Since 9/11, we've created a culture in which security is more important than liberty," Modes stated in the release.
Escalanate said officers noticed the meetings on the Web site and decided to go, and that officers customarily attend planning meetings for city events.
"If it was a meeting about First Night or Halloween or the Fourth of July we'd be there," Escalanate said. "If it's a public meeting about a public event on a public thoroughfare, we'll be there."
There was no reason for them to identify themselves as police, and they did not have to, Escalante said.
"Put yourself in our shoes," he said, adding that he does not believe the New Year's event will be a problem.
Modes, however, takes exception to undercover officers at the group's meetings.
"I think the police have plenty of tools to do their jobs without having to use subterfuge to get information from meetings," he said.
Modes said that a source within the police department confirmed the group's suspicions that undercover officers were at the meetings. He said parade organizers have contacted the ACLU and the National Lawyers Guild about possible violations of their constitutional rights to privacy, free speech and assembly.
The ACLU could not be reached to comment Friday.
The parade is billed as an alternative to city- or corporate-sponsored events. According to the group's Web site, it's a "parade of ordinary folks, freaks, clowns, gamelan, politics, fire, samba drums, punks, pirates, art, bikes, hippies, art cars, zombies, marching bands, moms, dads, kids and music."
People will begin gathering at 5 p.m. in the Saturn Cafe parking lot for the parade.