L.B. Police Turn Day into 'Bummer' : Youngsters Target of Bike-Licensing Raids

Times Staff Writer

The school bell had yet to ring for first period, but for Amy Settle, 14, the day was already, like, a total bummer.

Shortly after arriving at Hughes Junior High School on her magenta "beach cruiser" bicycle, the ninth-grader got a ticket from a police officer because the bike was not licensed.

"I knew the police would be coming eventually, but I thought, oh, I'll be able to slide by," she said, clutching the yellow citation in her hand. "My mom and dad are going to go, 'Amy, you've done it this time.' They're not going to be thrilled."

Spot Raids on Schools

But Amy has company. Since late last year, a special enforcement effort by police has resulted in scores of junior high and high school students being slapped with citations for riding unlicensed bicycles. City law requires bikes to be registered.

Police hope the program, which involves plainclothes juvenile officers making spot raids at schools a few weeks after youngsters are warned to register their bikes, will increase the number of licensed bicycles and, in so doing, help turn back the tide of bike thefts sweeping the city.

Last year, the number of bicycles stolen in Long Beach jumped more than 14% over 1983, up from 1,939 to 2,222. Police say thieves tend to shy away from bicycles displaying license stickers, which can be purchased for $1 each on weekend mornings at any city fire station and are valid for three years. When the bikes are licensed, the frame numbers are recorded, which helps identify stolen bikes that are recovered.

At Hughes, police wrote 61 citations. A few weeks before, 52 youngsters received tickets at Hill Junior High. In all, two high schools and six junior highs have been hit so far. Similar sweeps have been conducted by police in Los Angeles, Burbank and Glendale.

The effort is paying off in Long Beach, police say. In January, bike thefts in the city were down more than 25% compared to a year earlier.

Several parents have complained about the program, writing letters to the local paper and phoning school officials. To them, the department's campaign seems akin to swatting a fly with a sledgehammer.

"I just think the police could be doing other things besides harassing these kids," said Maria Settle, Amy's mother. "I'm not saying they're wrong for wanting the kids to get bike licenses, but this is a bit too much."

Each student who receives a ticket faces a $10 fine and must go to court with a parent to provide proof they have licensed the bike. Under state law, all infractions involving juveniles require a court appearance by a parent or guardian.

"Generally, if the kid goes in with proof that the bike has been licensed, the matter is dismissed," said Leo Moriarty, supervising juvenile traffic hearing officer for Los Angeles County.

While some parents griped about having to take time off from work to accompany the teen-agers to court, several said they were angry because their children must miss a few hours of school in order to appear before a judge.

"For a $1 license you have to jerk the kid out of school to go to court," complained Bonnie Baskin, whose son received a ticket at Hill Junior High School. "Something's wrong with that. Where are the priorities here?"

Police concede the program has angered some parents, but contend it is the only effective way to get youngsters to license their bikes.

"Giving these kids tickets is a real cold shot in the minds of many people," said Sgt. Larry Enger, head of the department's juvenile field units. "But there's been so darn many bikes being stolen, something had to be done."

In the past, police have conducted campaigns at schools to get students to register their bicycles. Such efforts have failed. Police estimate only 10% of the bikes in the city were licensed before this year.

While parents have complained that the department's enforcement effort singles out youngsters, police said they are eager to see more adults license their bikes, too.

Richard Van Der Laan, district spokesman, said police have "worked very hard to make sure there's been no surprises and gave students plenty of notice" about the raids. In the two or three weeks before a raid, students are warned through school bulletins that police may visit the campus.

But several students at Hughes said police were being overzealous.

'It's Bogus'

"I think it's bogus," 14-year-old Chris Rash said as he watched half a dozen juvenile officers snag bike riders as they peddled onto the Hughes campus.

"The police act like this is a drug bust or something," the ninth-grader said. "Next thing they'll do is bring out the SWAT team."

During the police operation at Hughes, dozens of teen-agers gathered around the chain-link fenced bike storage area, joshing school chums who sheepishly wheeled their bikes into the compound with yellow citations in hand.

Brandon Cowell, 14, wadded up his ticket, stuck it in a pocket of his jeans and announced he was not going to pay.

"You shouldn't have to pay," he said. "It's just a license."

A couple of students stationed themselves on the perimeter of campus, warning bicyclists of the police operation until school officials told them to stop.

"Everyone thought it was a joke," said Brian Fisk, 14. "They were just too lazy to do something about it. I just stopped riding my bike to school because I didn't want to get popped."

But several students said the warnings from police had prompted them to get licenses.

Joey Quenga, 12, pointed to the dark-blue license stuck to the frame of his two-wheeler and said simply: "I just figured it would be better to buy a $1 license instead of paying a $10 fine."

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