Los Angeles police announced Wednesday that they have stepped up patrols along Venice Beach after a recent spate of violent confrontations, including a shooting during a "flash mob" gathering and the stabbing of a man in a drum circle on the sand.
The area along the boardwalk — with its eclectic mix of tourists, street performers and bohemians — is among the most popular visitor destinations in the Los Angeles region. Authorities acknowledge that policing the massive and sometimes unruly crowds is a challenge.
But extra officers, authorities said, are now patrolling the beach and boardwalk to stop incidents from escalating out of control and help ensure that visitors continue to return as the warm summer months approach.
"We've been sending them out there a lot lately to put the lid on craziness," said Los Angeles Police Department Cmdr. Andy Smith, who oversees the West Bureau. "Incidents of this nature, in a destination for families and tourists, cause us huge concern."
Overall, the number of violent crimes reported this year along the Venice boardwalk is roughly on par with the last two years, according to a Times analysis of LAPD data.
At least 26 violent crimes have been reported this year along the boardwalk in an area bounded by the ocean on the west and Pacific Boulevard on the east, compared with 25 at this point last year and 23 in the same span in 2009, according to the data.
Smith said that overall crime in the Pacific Division, the LAPD patrol area that includes Venice Beach, has been trending down. Serious crimes are down about 9% so far in 2011 and violent crime has dropped about 5.6%.
Police routinely patrol the area on foot and bikes and in SUVs along the sand. Their presence has been augmented by about two dozen officers from the West Bureau's violent crime task force, Smith said.
He said the beach and surrounding areas would receive additional police deployments as more people flocked to the shoreline during the summer.
On Wednesday afternoon, the boardwalk area was alive with tourists, bikers and rollerbladers who were taking advantage of the warm weather. People sunbathed on the grass and sand, while others drank beer at sidewalk cafes or enjoyed musicians and performers.
Venice resident Shari Owens, 27, who has participated in drum circles for years, said she was shocked when she found out about the Easter Sunday stabbing, which left a 20-year-old man injured after a fight broke out around dusk.
"It's all about music, love and dance," Owens said as she ate with her family at a boardwalk cafe. She lamented the fact that some people "feel violence is needed to settle things."
Police said alcohol is believed to have played a role in the attack. The victim was drumming with a group that regularly meets on weekends. No arrests have been made.
The previous weekend, a man was shot and critically injured during a "flash mob" gathering, in which hordes of people were invited through Twitter and other online messaging sites to show up at the basketball courts along Ocean Front Walk near Windward Avenue.
By late afternoon, police said, the crowd had swelled and included tattooed young men in gang attire. About 6:30 p.m., six to eight gunshots were fired near 17th Avenue and Ocean Front Walk. The gunfire set off what one onlooker described as "a human tidal wave."
The victim, who has not been identified, ran half a block to an adjacent alley, where he collapsed. He remains hospitalized in critical condition. Police said Wednesday that they are still looking for the attackers.
Torrance resident Joe Sanchez, who was visiting the boardwalk Wednesday with his brother from Rancho Cucamonga, welcomed the beefed-up LAPD presence.
The violence "definitely makes Angelenos look bad," he said. "Added police presence is definitely necessary."
Police and residents said a number of less-publicized crimes have also created problems for people who work along the beach.
In the past week, a volunteer with the Marine Mammal Rescue Center was punched in the face by the owner of a dog he was trying to prevent from biting a sick seal, according to police. The attacker and his dog took off and were not arrested.
Taylor Sherwood, who sells tie-dye art and T-shirts on the boardwalk, said she feels she is taking a risk on weekends because she has to arrive at 4 a.m. to get a prime spot to set up her table.
"It's scary when it's still dark out," Sherwood said as she hawked her wares Wednesday afternoon.
Alex Thompson, who runs Venice 311, a community crime-fighting organization that sends out LAPD scanner reports on Twitter, said she has repeatedly witnessed people selling cocaine and other drugs during the early morning hours.
"It's a haven for crime, because it's a difficult place to police," said Thompson, who has lived in Venice for 14 years. "The only answer to the boardwalk situation is a mass force of officers."
Times staff writer Ching-Ching Ni contributed to this report.