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Police Beefing Up Balboa Park Force to Stop Crime Wave

Times Staff Writer

Reacting to a two-week crime wave in Balboa Park, San Diego Police Chief Bob Burgreen announced Friday that he will immediately begin deploying extra police patrols to foil nighttime assaults and robberies on Marston Point.

Burgreen blamed the crime rampage--10 robberies and five assaults in the park’s southwest corner since Sept. 27--on a band of 15 to 30 illegal aliens who stake out their victims and escape from police by running down hillsides and through traffic on California 163.

“It is one group of people who, you might say, (constitutes) organized crime in Balboa Park,” said Burgreen in an afternoon press conference in the park.

Aim to Catch Them in Act

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Burgreen said the Police Department isn’t interested in picking up the perpetrators for deportation to Mexico, since many of them return in a matter of days to roam the park. Instead, he said, police want to “catch people in the act” of committing felonies so they can be put into jail.

The police chief, however, declined to say what tactics the extra patrols will be using. “You’re probably going to see in the neighborhood of a dozen officers in a variety of garb and vehicles,” he said.

The extra officers, put on duty Friday night, are patrolling a part of the park bounded by 6th Avenue on the west, Laurel Street on the north, an off-ramp from Interstate 5 on the south and 163 on the east. Known as Marston Point, the southwest corner forms a scenic outlook over downtown San Diego.

Police said crime in the area has been on the rise since June, prompting them to institute beefed-up patrols during the summer. But, about two weeks ago, manpower needs in other areas forced the department to pull back on the patrols, leaving the robbers control of their old turf.

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A month ago, three illegal aliens were arrested in connection with a gang rape on the point. Just a week before the incident, the three aliens had been apprehended in Balboa Park and deported, but they returned to commit the crime, Burgreen stressed Friday.

Since Sept. 27, there have been 10 robberies and five assaults, as well as dozens of broken windows on parked cars, police said. In the past two days, there have been five robberies and one assault, they added.

A sailor was stabbed in the face and neck during an attack late Wednesday night by five to seven Latino males, said Detective Terry Degelder. When the sailor staggered away from his attackers, he discovered that someone had broken into his car, Degelder said.

Beaten, Robbed

The latest attack was shortly after midnight Friday, when five to seven Latino men in their 20s used rocks to beat a man in the face, said Degelder. The victim was listed in fair condition in Mercy Hospital Friday night.

And the attacks don’t always take place at night, claimed one man who declined to give his name but said he lived in the Park View condominium across from Marston Point.

“Walking through here, I’ve been chased by these people while I go to the cultural center in the afternoon,” said the man. “First, they ask for a cigarette and then you are surrounded by them.”

According to police, the attackers have adopted a system to choose their victims. Officer Tim Saelens, who has patrolled Balboa Park for five years, said one of the attackers will approach a prospective victim and ask for money or a cigarette.

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After that contact, the attacker will go back to his friends and discuss whether the person who was approached could be assaulted or robbed. This discussion often takes place in a grove of trees just east of the 8th Avenue Drive on Marston Point.

If the group decides the attack is possible, a number of them will then surround the victim and begin beating him, Saelens said. Or the group will walk around the roadway loop, which forms the overlook, and steal items from parked cars after bashing in the windows, he said, pointing to piles of broken auto glass on the ground.

In either case, the attackers have found a perfect escape route on Marston Point, Saelens added. They run east on a short, dead-end walkway, jump through a hole in a chain-link fence, and dash down the hillsides to 163, where they dodge traffic and use highway underpasses for refuge, he said.

Concerns about illegal aliens in the park also prompted Border Parol officials to say they would help out with extra patrols. Alex Kwast, patrol agent in charge of the Border Patrol’s Chula Vista station, said he will work with the Police Department to cut down on crime in Balboa Park.

“First of all, we have to identify that those are indeed illegal aliens that are committing the crime. If they are, hopefully, we’ll get in there and try to clean it up a little bit,” Kwast said.

Meanwhile, Kwast said, he will use extra employees for additional Border Patrol sweeps through Balboa Park during the day. The Chula Vista station now sends agents to the park every other day for about two hours, he said.

Besides the immediate sweeps on Marston Point, Burgreen said Friday, he will be announcing a plan within a month to reduce crime in the rest of Balboa Park, which the chief once patrolled as a front-line officer. The plan, which will be forwarded to the City Council, is designed to “give the park back to the citizens” and make it safe day and night, he said.


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