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Huntington Police Plan Holiday From Violence

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Police helicopters will buzz the beach, video cameras will roll and roving police teams will patrol barricaded streets for trouble.

Welcome to the Fourth of July, Huntington Beach-style.

Stung by the violence and rowdy crowds that have marred holidays past, police in this seaside city plan to use technology and more than 200 officers to keep the peace at the nation’s 220th birthday party. The trick, officials say, is to make sure the intense police presence doesn’t chill the festivities.

“Obviously, we don’t want to establish some kind of police state downtown on the Fourth of July,” said Officer Mike Kelly, the department’s spokesman. “It is Independence Day after all. We want people to have a good time.”

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The city expects 300,000 people to hit Surf City for its holiday fireworks, parade and beach festivities.

“The welcome mat is out for the people who want to enjoy the holiday,” Kelly said. “But if you come here to make trouble, you will get arrested.”

Trouble has dogged the city’s summer celebrations for years. In 1986, a Labor Day surfing contest erupted into a riot. A lifeguard station was upended, police cars were torched and 40 people were arrested. The holiday melees continued into the ‘90s, and last year one man was shot to death during the July 4 celebration and more than 100 people were arrested.

Hoping to curb the chaos, the Police Department will have 30% more officers on duty than last year. Also, the number of city streets blocked off to traffic will increase from about 20 last year to more than 100, an area that will encompass all of downtown and the residential area to the northwest.

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The barricades go up at 3 p.m. and will stay in place through the next morning. Automobile and bicycle traffic will not be permitted past the roadblocks, except for about 5,000 residents who live within the blocked-off area and have proof of their address.

The area blocked off is bounded by Palm Avenue, Golden West Street, Pacific Coast Highway and 3rd Street.

Unlike last year, downtown bars and shops have not been asked to close early for the holiday. Instead, police hope the foot traffic and commerce in the district will encourage a “family atmosphere,” Kelly said.

The impact of the large police presence and the barricaded streets is hard to predict, according to Stephen Daniel, the owner of the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory and president of the Downtown Business Assn.

“There’s two ways to look at it: People might say, ‘God, it’s going to be really safe, look at all the police.’ Or, they might look at all the cops and say, ‘Wow, what’s going to happen here? This is scary.’ ”

For his part, Daniel is glad to see the police. “We want people to come out and have fun and be safe. The cops are part of that.”

Deputy City Administrator Richard Barnard said the city’s police officers are experienced at working beach events and “mix well with the crowd.”

“We need them out there in force,” Barnard said. “What’s happened in the past is we get troublemakers, usually late, about 11 or 12 at night, and the residents have had enough of it. The businesses have had enough of it, and the city is sick of it.”

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Some past holiday visitors, though, have said that police do not mix well. Numerous formal complaints about police use of force followed the July 4, 1994, celebration. Police Chief Ronald L. Lowenberg has stood by the actions of his officers, who were pelted with rocks, bottles and lit fireworks.

Police will have six video cameras trained on the holiday crowd this year, both to record crimes and to deter troublemakers who might otherwise be emboldened by the anonymity of a crowd. The video will also document police response to troublemakers, Kelly said.

One of the cameras will be stationed high over Main Street. The others will be in the hands of patrolling officers, Kelly said.

Plans for the holiday have the ring of a military invasion: A huge aerial photo of the downtown area will be spread on a table at the “tactical command center,” while the city’s SWAT team will be roaming, ready to respond to hot spots. Police will eat and rest at a staging area at Smith School.

The contingent of about 125 local officers on patrol will be bolstered by 33 members of the California Highway Patrol and 40 deputies and supervisors from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. Undercover officers and police dogs also will be used.

The total projected cost for law enforcement personnel for the holiday weekend: $121,719.

“We are ready, believe me” Kelly said. “Everyone who wears a badge in this town will be working on the Fourth of July. That’s just the way it is in Huntington Beach.”


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