LAPD slams the door on tailgaters

Opening Day is a sacred moment for those who bleed Dodger Blue, full of ritual and expectations.

But outside the stadium, some have a ritual of their own: heavy drinking, sometimes from dawn to dusk and into the night.

This year, the Los Angeles Police Department decided enough was enough.

More than 150 officers spread out around the stadium on opening day Tuesday, arresting more than 130 people, mostly for public intoxication and unruly behavior.

“We’ve got to change the culture of opening day. People have to get more responsible,” said Capt. Bill Murphy, who oversaw the operation.

Some fans don’t see it that way, complaining that the heavy police presence took the fun out of opening day and might have pushed some unruly fans into the stands. “If they were just drinking and minding their own business, what’s the point of confronting them?” asked David Romo of La Habra.

The LAPD decided to act after a particularly unruly opening day last year, which was marked by several fights and the stabbing of a fan in the parking lot.

“Opening day has become a massive tailgating party, really a drinking fest, and unfortunately a lot of people can’t control themselves,” Murphy said. “A Dodger game opening day is like a guys’ night out thing, where you have 15 guys who meet up. It’s different from any other day. It’s a lot of males, in their 20s and 30s, getting together and bonding.”

The police action has the support of the Dodgers, who have been working in recent years to stop disruptive behavior inside the stadium.

But some fans found it heavy-handed -- especially given the tradition of parties before the game.

Terry Romero, who has tailgated before every opening game since Dodger Stadium opened, said the police crackdown was “ridiculous” -- and did little to reduce bad behavior in the stands.

Romero, 62, said Tuesday that she saw people inside the stadium passing bottles of liquor, smoking and urinating in public.

“What was going on inside was just mind-boggling,” she said. “There was guys urinating on the poles. There was spilled beer everywhere, spilled hot dogs, people walking on hot dogs.

“All the security was outside,” she said. “Inside, there was none to be found.”

Diana Lopez, 42, of Highland Park saw two fights break out in the stands. She wondered why there were so many cops in the parking lot but apparently few she could see in the stadium.

“The police must have stayed out there too long driving around in their golf carts,” she said.

Murphy said he believes that the situation inside the stadium was more controlled than during some previous opening day games. Several years ago, the Dodgers decided to hire uniformed LAPD off-duty officers to help patrol the stands. But last year, he said, the Dodgers decided to stop paying extra to have officers wear their police uniforms. Now, the off-duty officers wear polo shirts with the team’s logo and the word “security” printed on them, he said.

“We told them we think they should keep some uniforms in there, just because the mere presence deters crime,” Murphy said. “But that’s their call. And you can’t argue with their decision because last year, we had a good season without them.”

The dozens of officers -- far more than typically patrol an opening day -- gathered for roll call at the station about 3 a.m. Even in the predawn, some of the fans had been drinking for a while, Murphy said. Most of those arrested were given misdemeanor citations ordering them to go to court and then they were released.

Officials said the 132 arrests were a big increase from the number of arrests during opening day in 2009. In addition to public drinking, there were a few arrests for scalping tickets and driving drunk.

Murphy said he was not surprised by the criticism over the arrests, saying that it comes with the territory.

“Last year we and the Dodgers were heavily criticized after one drunk guy stabbed another guy. It was all over the news, that it was out of control at Dodger Stadium, with a bunch of thugs drinking,” he said. “The story today is the poor tailgaters are being picked on.”

But the police efforts did win support from the Los Angeles city councilman who represents Dodger Stadium. Ed Reyes said his office often gets complaints from neighbors about unruly behavior -- behavior he has witnessed firsthand on opening day.

“One time I saw a row of guys urinating against a fence, cracking up, having a good time, oblivious of anything else,” Reyes said. “It’s almost a sense of lawlessness because a lot of people are inebriated. It’s very shameful.”

Josh Rawitch, a Dodger spokesman, said he is hopeful that the police action will make next year’s opening day better.

“We’re pleased by the progress we’re making in trying to change the culture of opening day,” he said. “It’s obviously a tradition for many to come very early at the start of daybreak, but one of our core goals is for people to have the best fan experience.”

But some fans said authorities needed to chill out. No one wants drunken fans who disrupt opening day, but they argue that many of those tailgaters aren’t bothering anyone.

Sean Vasquez, 25, a season ticket-holder who was not at Tuesday’s game, said he thinks that police should direct their efforts elsewhere, “not at people who were just trying to enjoy a ballgame.”

The crackdown has made him think twice about renewing his tickets.

“You’re better off just staying home and watching the game on TV,” he said.