In his second announcement on Balboa Park crime in a week, San Diego Police Chief Bob Burgreen on Wednesday unveiled a three-point plan to fight violent crimes by beefing up police patrols in the inner-city park.
Burgreen said his plan, which he termed “extraordinary,” was inspired by the continuing public perception that thugs and drug dealers have taken over Balboa Park, especially after dark.
“Because of people who are victimizing innocent park users and employees, Balboa Park over the past few months has been increasingly not safe to use, and we don’t want it to go any further,” Burgreen said.
“Balboa Park is a civic treasure,” he said. “It is a place that everyone who uses the park should feel absolutely safe in using it, whether it is a picnic, the Old Globe Theatre, the Aerospace Museum or the Cafe del Rey Moro.”
Burgreen, reacting to a two-week crime wave that included 10 robberies and five beatings, first announced Friday that he was sending a special tactical unit of as many as 12 undercover officers to comb through the Marston Point area, which is on the park’s southwest corner, with 6th Avenue on the west and California 163 to the east.
The extra patrols, Burgreen said, were designed to capture what he described as a band of 15 to 30 illegal aliens who rob and beat park visitors before escaping from police by running down hillsides and seeking shelter at the underpasses at the intersection of Interstates 5 and 163.
The Marston Point crackdown netted the arrests of three men on Friday night; since then, the extra patrols have been relatively quiet, presumably because word was out about the extra patrols, police officials have said.
Now, Burgreen wants to permanently expand the increased patrols throughout the rest of the park, which includes the heavily used Prado and museum areas east of 163. Under Burgreen’s three-point plan unveiled Wednesday, the department would:
- Institute an immediate blitz of uniformed and undercover officers for the next 30 days. Normally, there are three police officers patrolling the park in a squad car and on horseback at any one time. But for the next month, Burgreen is deploying 30 extra officers from the tactical motorcycle squad, the horse patrol, SWAT, the narcotics street team, special investigations, and police reserves to ride along in uniform as well as perform undercover work around the clock. There will be 15 to 18 officers patrolling the park at any one time, Burgreen said.
The police chief said the extra officers in Balboa Park will not mean that routine patrols will suffer elsewhere in the city.
“We’re taking them from our citywide tactical units,” Burgreen said. “We’re not pulling them from anyone’s neighborhood patrol.”
- Permanently double the number of police officers assigned to patrol Balboa Park. On Nov. 11, Burgreen said, the department will double the number of single-officer patrol cars from one to two, and the number of horse patrols from two to four.
- Establish a community relations “storefront” office in the park. The department will open the storefront in the Balboa Club, near 6th and Ivy Street, on Nov. 11 and will staff it with one police officer and three park service officers. Its hours will be 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week.
The last two points are long-term solutions that Burgreen said are necessary to place extra police officers in the park to foil criminals who are no longer deterred by the sight of uniformed park service officers.
A number of park service officers were deployed in the park about a year and a half ago, and crime dipped appreciably because their uniforms scared off criminals, Burgreen said.
But crime began to increase again after the criminals figured out that the park service officers weren’t empowered to carry guns and could only write citations for minor infractions such as parking violations.
“What it is is that the crooks have become sophisticated and are knowledgeable that these aren’t police officers,” Burgreen said. “The simple presence of a person in uniform is not enough to deter someone from activity.”