Holding the Line on Fans' Violence : Extra Police, Cutting Beer Sales Help to Keep the Peace

When the Los Angeles Rams hosted San Francisco last season, a good part of the violent action took place in the stands. A series of fights left nine fans arrested on allegations of assaulting police officers, four officers injured and several ticket holders nursing assorted wounds.

When the Los Angeles Raiders hosted Denver that season, police ejected 47 fighters from a crowd of 91,020, a few of whom went home with heads bloodied.

Faced with debacles such as these, and with a toughening governmental attitude toward such behavior, local teams have worked during the past year to curb stadium rowdiness.

The results have been mixed.

Sgt. Jackie Parra of the Anaheim Police Department said disturbances at Rams football games in Anaheim Stadium have been about equal to last year. But on Monday night, when the team hosts the Raiders before a sell-out crowd of 69,007, he plans to deploy the largest force in Rams history in Anaheim--about 125 officers and private security personnel, 40 more than ever before.

Heavy deployment of officers seems to have worked pretty well at the Los Angeles Coliseum, where "much improvement" in Raider fan demeanor has been noticed by Sgt. John Byer of the Los Angeles Police Department. Byer said officers had been doubled this year to about 120 and beer sales have been cut off after the third quarter.

Cost $100,000

Similar steps have been taken at sporting events across the country in an effort to control frenzied spectators.

At Dodger Stadium and San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium last season, the Dodgers and Padres stopped selling beer after the seventh inning. The Padres said the move cost them $100,000.

At Anaheim Stadium, police aggressively issued citations leading to average fines of $100 to fans who brought liquor or displayed drunkenness at California Angels baseball games. The Angels also limited the sale of beers to two per person per purchase as did the Dodgers last season.

The USC football team, which plays at the Coliseum, and the UCLA squad, which uses the Rose Bowl, also stopped beer sales at the end of three quarters. USC also limited sales to two cups per purchase.

At the Forum, the Lakers and Kings moved to control crowds during the 1984-85 season, banning the sale of 32-ounce cups of beer in favor of 14- and 20-ounce containers.

The Angels are considering joining a handful of professional baseball and football teams across the country that have established family sections where no alcohol is sold.

William I. Turner, operations manager of Anaheim Stadium, said it is unlikely that the section would be established next year because season ticket holders, who are already ordering tickets, would have to be displaced. However, Turner noted: "We don't have nearly as many problems as many stadiums (elsewhere)," he said. ". . . I think it's gotten much better. We never had it that bad."

The San Diego Padres started a no-smoking section in Jack Murphy Stadium in 1979.

Byer said he noticed major improvements at Raiders games after officers increased arrests to make examples of offending fans.

'A New Law'

"Another thing," he said, "is that we have a new (municipal) law on the books regarding throwing things. It says that if an officer sees anybody throwing things, that in itself is an offense and we can arrest them.

"Before, the object had to hit somebody and we had to get a victim to see if they wanted to prosecute."

Officials have prosecuted fans at Raiders games for violence. Deputy City Atty. Thomas C. McLurkin Jr. said that Tim Van Scoy, 46, of North Hollywood, recently pleaded guilty to battery for punching and gouging the nose of Harris Berger, 38, of Chatsworth, at a 1984 Raiders game.

Berger, an accountant, hit his head on the back of a chair, fell unconscious, and required several operations to repair his breathing.

"My child (who was watching) was 7. He's now 8," Berger said. "He still has nightmares from it."

A probation report will be filed before sentencing of Van Scoy, who faces a maximum 45 days in jail and three years' summary probation, McLurkin said.

Vincent Martinez, 21, of Wilmington, Christopher Garcia, 21, of San Pedro, and Vince Andre, 20, of Harbor City, are scheduled for trial Jan. 17. The city attorney's office alleges that during a 1984 Raiders game they beat up Robert Erlemann and broke the arm of his girlfriend, Kari Tanner--both 22 and from Reseda--after the men began fighting and Erlemann asked them to take their battle outside.

Less Throwing

Parra said several Angels' fans were prosecuted after the City Council passed an ordinance prohibiting throwing objects at Anaheim Stadium. He said pregame announcements about the new ordinance cut down the hurling of batteries, oranges and other missiles.

Team and stadium officials say they reduced beer sales to make families comfortable at games and to help fans sober up before they drive home.

Lt. Roger Kelley of the Pasadena Police Department, who oversees police deployment at the Rose Bowl, said officials also reduced beer sales because they might eventually be held responsible, like tavern owners, if a drunk fan crashed going home.

One seasoned observer doubts that reduced beer intake can control a crowd. Dr. Irving Goldaber, director of the Center for the Study of Crowd and Spectator Behavior in Miami, said that the real cause of rowdiness is fan identification with teams. Alcohol, he said, only weakens the fans' restraint.

"The culprit is . . . the unsophisticated emotion of winning at any cost and the potentially destructive behavior that could come from that," he said.

"What happens is that when they win, the fans feel prowess. When they're losing they feel frustration. They make it tough to be the(ir) neighbor."

Sociologist Jerry M. Lewis, a professor at Kent State University, disagrees, calling cutting off beer sales late in the game a shrewd method of behavior control.

"The playing of the national anthem at sports events has given fans permission to suspend the rules of society for the next 2 1/2 hours," he said.

"The suspension of drinking is ending this ritual and society is back to saying you're now back to being a citizen and acting responsibly.

"Not only aren't you a violent fan, but you're supposed to drive carefully . . . you're supposed to respect women and children.

"You could never say that on a scoreboard. But because of this announcement that beer will not be sold late in the game, they are actually saying that.

"It denies you permission but also says the authorities are watching you. It's fascinating."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
70°