Rowdiness Rises With the Heat : Summer Beach Patrols Bolstered

Times Staff Writer

In a parking lot near the beach in Playa del Rey, a youth was stabbed in a fight involving several gangs.

Beneath the pier in Hermosa Beach, a belligerent teen-ager, apparently high on drugs, was wrestled to the ground by police and dragged away in handcuffs.

At King Harbor in Redondo Beach, eight people were arrested for fights and other violations and 88 others were cited for drunkenness, public consumption of alcohol and similar offenses.

It was Fourth of July weekend in the South Bay, a traditional time for family picnics, beach parties, volleyball tournaments, cookouts--and the start of stepped-up law enforcement on beaches from Playa del Rey to San Pedro.

Weather and Problems

"The summer patrol begins when school lets outs, but the season really gets under way during the Fourth," said agent Mark Rodina, who patrols the pier in Redondo Beach. "Once the weather heats up, the problems heat up."

"People are a little more volatile when it is warm," added Capt. Val Straser, who heads the beach patrol in Hermosa Beach. "It all goes along with the high temperatures in July, August and September."

County lifeguards and South Bay beach patrol officers say law enforcement along the coast this season--including cooperation between lifeguards and police agencies in making arrests and divvying responsibilities--has run relatively smoothly since high school students began flocking to the beaches and oceanfront entertainment areas shortly before Memorial Day.

Several law enforcement agencies and the county lifeguard division report that while citations for minor offenses are slightly up this summer over last year, crowds by and large have been disciplined at beaches and piers.

Good Relations

Officials attribute much of the success to a "give and take" between highly visible beach patrols and beachgoers. Hermosa Beach and Manhattan Beach have allocated additional full-time officers to beach-area details this year, and Redondo Beach is marking the first anniversary of a $200,000 police substation that provides officers with a panoramic view of the busy pier.

Relatively cool temperatures and overcast skies have helped by keeping crowds below peak levels during much of the summer thus far.

"What we are doing is as much a PR (public relations) detail as an enforcement detail," said Lt. Bruce Powell, coordinator of the beach patrol in Manhattan Beach. "People are up-tight from the pressure of the job, or maybe they can't afford to go on any other vacation. They come to the beach, they let their hair down and get rowdy. We understand that. You can't go down and arrest everybody. You have to have a give and take."

Last weekend, when temperatures soared and most police departments doubled or tripled beach patrols because of holiday crowds, there were numerous skateboard and roller-skating accidents, several intoxicated swimmers and surfers rescued from the ocean, a collision between a man in a wheelchair and a bicyclist, and numerous arrests for fighting, drug dealing and marijuana use.

'Pretty Normal'

"Things have been pretty normal," said relief Lt. Dan Cromp, a county lifeguard who works out of the South Bay substation in Hermosa Beach. "We've got some gang fights, juvenile drinking, kids throwing sand and doing the normal horseplay. . . . It is annoying and it bothers people, but it is nothing out of the ordinary."

Alcohol consumption--forbidden on all South Bay beaches--has been the biggest problem at the area's most visited beaches in Redondo, Hermosa and Manhattan. Lifeguards in those cities said police efforts to strictly enforce the alcohol ordinances have made their jobs easier.

"Our hardest rescues are the people who have been drinking," one lifeguard said. "With the police departments controlling the alcohol consumption, we can spend our time on other things."

"There is a lot of pressure from the lifeguards to keep the surfers, the gangs and the parking lots watched so they can watch the water," Powell said. "The beach has become a place to gather, to drink beer, smoke pot and deal heavier drugs."

Cooperation Crucial

Cromp said cooperation between the lifeguards, who often first spot incidents, and the beach patrol officers becomes crucial once a major problem unfolds.

"It is not just sitting here in the tower watching the water," he said. "We've had lifeguards stabbed, shot, punched and hit with things. We often have to intercede until the police get there. We let the police handle our matters as much as possible."

In Manhattan Beach, Powell said, two full-time officers patrol the beach daily during June, July, August and the first half of September. The most serious problems usually arrive at the end of the season, he said, when teen-agers are getting bored or anxious about returning to school.

"The kids are antsy at the end of the summer. They don't want to go back to school, and the weekends get real hot in September," he said. "The idea is to establish guidelines and rules now so that things don't get bad. You want the troublemakers to be at the beach as guests. You don't want the officers to be the guests of the troublemakers."

Manhattan Increased Patrol

For the first time since the beach patrol began in Manhattan in 1978, the department has added a third full-time officer to the detail, Powell said. The three officers rotate shifts so that two are always on duty and none is required to work overtime for the beat to be covered. Previously, officers from other beats covered for the permanent beach patrol officers on their days off.

In Hermosa Beach, the City Council included an additional $100,000 in the 1985-86 budget--money that will come from a new utility users tax--to beef up the downtown foot patrol. The money will pay for two new officers who will patrol businesses between 10th and 15th streets on the Strand and Hermosa Avenue, Straser said.

Because the downtown lies adjacent to the beach in Hermosa, the foot patrol and beach patrols often double up on duties and deal with many of the same people and problems, he said. With the additional funding, the department can have four officers patrolling the beach and two patrolling nearby businesses on summer weekends, Straser said.

The officers who patrol the businesses will wear regular blue uniform shirts--rather than T-shirts typical of beach-area patrols--in the hope of increasing public awareness of their presence, he said.

Officers 'More Visible'

"The blue shirts with a badge will be much more visible," said Hermosa Police Chief Frank Beeson. "The guys won't like it because they are much hotter than the T-shirts, but people will perceive that we have increased the patrol there."

In Redondo Beach, both public service officers and sworn police officers patrol the beaches and pier. While their numbers have not increased over last year, the officers say the year-old police substation near Seaport Village has served as an important information center for tourists, a refuge for lost children and an important deterrent to crime.

"You can see clear down the bike paths and you have a clear line of vision of the pier," said Redondo Police Capt. Ray Graham. "People now know where they can approach us, where they can find someone when they need to."

City officials in Manhattan Beach and Redondo Beach are also cracking down on beachgoers who have been using city streets and public parking garages to get an early jump on beach crowds. A new ordinance in Redondo, expected to receive final approval Monday, prohibits motorists from leaving vehicles, boats or trailers for more than 24 hours in either the pier or plaza parking garages near King Harbor.

Cheap Camping Grounds

"Essentially, this ordinance is designed to stop motorists from using the structures as inexpensive camping grounds and/or storage facilities," said harbor Director Sheila Schoettger.

The Manhattan Beach City Council passed a similar ordinance last month, which allows police to cite anyone living in a trailer, motor home or other recreational vehicle between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. Public works Director Morton August said the ordinance came in response to "the seemingly growing problem of transients and squatters" living on city streets and parking lots.

"We welcome whatever is done to help patrol the beach area," said Cromp, of the South Bay lifeguard substation. "The beginning of July is the turning point for us. The season has started and we are ready for it."

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