On the beach, amid the familiar seasonal collection of sunglasses, bikinis and boogie boards, Ventura police officers in dark blue polo shirts and pants ride 18-speed mountain bikes, looking for crime.
The Police Department has redeployed its summer beach bicycle patrol after a two-year absence. Three men and a woman cover the area south of the Ventura Freeway between San Jon Road and the Marina, Friday through Monday from 12:30 p.m. until dusk.
The beach patrol was reactivated to improve public relations and to provide a way of swooping down easily on people committing or about to commit crimes, a police spokesman said.
“The idea is to get crooks to look around and say, ‘Jiminy Christmas, there are cops everywhere--on the streets, on the beaches,’ ” said Lt. A.J. Farrar, patrol division commander. “If we have a high profile, there’s less inclination for the crooks to do physical crimes.”
Bike patrol Officer Jeff Theis said the beaches have been quiet so far. Most infractions involve alcohol, traffic or parking, he said.
“There are some fights now and again, but nothing major,” Theis said. “The patrol helps deter crime before it happens. . . . People come up and they talk to you and ask you for information. Kids come up to us and say, ‘Hi.’ It’s a great detail.”
Farrar said the advantages to bike patrols on the beach are speed, maneuverability and low visibility when approaching a crime scene, plus they generate no pollution. “Bikes are taken for granted and even an officer in a uniform is not easily spotted. They can sneak up on you. It has a lot of enforcement advantages.”
Sgt. Larry Lotton said the patrols will continue through the middle of next month or until activity on the beaches declines.
Ventura Police are the only officers in the county patrolling the sand on wheels. Similar beach patrols are done by West Coast state rangers and in other coastal cities such as Santa Barbara, San Francisco and Seattle.