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'Bash mob' is a no-show in Long Beach, but police remain on alert

Crime, Law and JusticeLaws and LegislationOrganized CrimeThe Home DepotGeorge Zimmerman

Law enforcement officers across the Southland continued to be on alert Friday for signs of roving groups of vandals like the one that struck Hollywood on Tuesday night, even as one such “bash mob” failed to materialize in Long Beach.

Police there had warned residents about a potential attack by a large mob of people expected to descend upon city streets, vandalizing property and committing theft and petty crimes.

A similar incident took place in Long Beach on July 9, when more than 100 people raced through downtown in a sudden, organized crime rampage organized in part through social media sites.

Law enforcement officials investigating that incident found out about another planned attack, scheduled for 2 p.m. Friday.

But by late Friday afternoon, the anticipated mob was nowhere to be found, and families with children strolled through a nearby shopping district, eating ice cream and buying movie tickets. Many were unaware of the police warning.

Long Beach police maintained a visible presence, as squad cars -- some unmarked -- circled the blocks. Some were posted at Blue Line stops; officials say the light-rail line was the bash mob’s transit of choice during the last incident.

A Ross department store had also prepared, hiring a security guard to stand sentinel on the sidewalk outside, just in case.

“Right now, we’re in a period of waiting,” said Sgt. Aaron Eaton, spokesman for the Long Beach Police Department. “We will continue to be on alert in case they show up tonight.”

Earlier in the day, about 100 protesters gathered on the steps of the Long Beach courthouse for a peaceful protest over the not-guilty verdict for George Zimmerman in the slaying of Trayvon Martin. The protest was unrelated to the “bash mob” reports, police said, and the crowd dispersed peacefully shortly before 2 p.m.

Some protest organizers were angered at the intent to cause trouble in the city’s streets.

“We can have a protest without a riot, and without vandalizing our community,” said Paris Gilder, a 25-year-old Long Beach resident. “I hope the police catch them. All the bash mob is doing is tearing down our community.”

Carldell Pearson, 32, who operates a Ferris wheel at the Pike entertainment district in downtown Long Beach, said he was working during the last bash mob incident. He said about 15 teenagers broke into the nearby carousel and turned it on.

“It’s just a bunch of kids acting dumb,” Pearson said. "It’s not like there’s a trail of graffiti.”

Pearson’s boss had warned him to keep no more than $100 cash in his pocket. He said he's also noticed increased security at nearby American Career College, where he is a student.

Long Beach police were also coordinating with Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies, who had deployed extra officers on public transit.

“A year ago, I don’t think our respective agencies would be on top of this like we are today,” said Capt. Mike Parker of the sheriff’s department, crediting increased monitoring of social media for criminal activity.

Other law enforcement officials throughout the Southland also remained vigilant as similar incidents had been reported in Victorville, San Bernardino and South L.A. in recent days.

“We are very cognizant of monitoring the rest of the city for any potential flash mobs, and we have additional resources in place to respond quickly and aggressively,” said LAPD Lt. Andy Neiman. “We will aggressively go after anybody who participates in this kind of illegal activity.”

To explain the department’s response after a roving group of vandals appeared in Hollywood earlier this week, Neiman turned to terms every Southern Californian would understand.

“Whenever we have these types of incidents we jump on them right away, and try to extinguish them, kind of like a brush fire,”  he said. “If there’s little spot fires flaring up, we jump on it immediately so it doesn’t spread.”

 

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matt.hamilton@latimes.com

christine.maiduc@latimes.com

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