Police said Wednesday that they will patrol Balboa in force for the rest of spring break after they broke up a crowd of about 700 chanting, taunting youths Tuesday night near the Balboa Fun Zone.
Three adults and five juveniles were arrested during the 11:30 p.m. confrontation, and one officer was punched and a police car dented by kicks, officers said.
But the crowd was dispersed in about 1 1/2 hours by 30 officers from Newport Beach, Costa Mesa and the Orange County Sheriff's Department, according to Kent Stoddard, spokesman for the Newport Beach Police Department. "I would not term this a major-type disturbance," Stoddard said.
Officers do not know what set off the incident, he said.
But the story circulating Wednesday through the Fun Zone area was that milling crowds of youths were provoked by a momentarily bare-breasted girl.
Susi Wynkoop, a waitress in Dillman's Restaurant at Main Street and Balboa Avenue, said she watched the disturbance through the restaurant's window.
"Customers said that a girl drove by in a convertible and lifted her top up," she said. "The atmosphere got real charged. It looked like millions of kids out there. They were restless and milling around."
Dorothy Ahlman, a hostess at Dillman's, said she heard the same account. "And all of a sudden there were a lot of people on all of the corners, all standing around, all chanting. It seemed like something that could have erupted into a riot," she said.
Ahlman said that until Tuesday night, the spring break crowd had been "pretty calm."
Some residents, among them Barbie Little, credited police with taking swift action that prevented a full-fledged riot.
"I think the police provided quick, preventive action, so things did not get out of hand," Little said. "The kids are young and crazy. They don't live here. They don't care if they bang things up."
But Kent Lafner, 18, a USC student, said Tuesday night's problem was caused by "just too many people. This was just a bunch of kids getting rowdy, having fun. That is, until the cops showed up and started chasing people."
Lafner's friend Steve Garfield, 20, said he was at the scene Tuesday night and "it looked more like about 20,000 kids were out here to me. It was a lot more than 700 people.
"I saw everyone run out in the street and try to tip over a car. And then the cops showed up, and people started running everywhere."
Steve Cooley, whose father owns a boutique in the area, said that when the police started "charging," most of the youths ran. "The place got quiet real quick."
Elliott M. Castenada, 18, was held on suspicion of assaulting a police officer. Two adults were taken into custody for allegedly being drunk in public.
Five juveniles were detained for curfew violations. The city curfew for minors is 10 p.m., but it is strictly enforced only if incidents such as Tuesday's occur, Stoddard said.
"We have had more officers in the area since the beginning of the spring break," Stoddard said. "We are a small department, but we may be allocating even more officers. We will have more of a high profile."
But Lafner predicted Wednesday that the night would be quiet. "The crowd won't do anything tonight," he said. "They know the police will be back before anything can happen. It won't happen tonight."