Newport police chief walks the route

When police officers blocked one young blonde from entering the Newport Beach Peninsula, they probably didn't expect the police chief to hear about it. They were, after all, just following orders.

But Newport Beach Police Chief Jay Johnson walked the streets of West Newport and talked with Independence Day partygoers. Lindsay Johnson (no relation), 28, was annoyed she had to take a new route from Huntington Beach, so she griped straight to the chief.

"It was kind of a pain," she said, cussing to make her point. But Johnson wasn't fazed. On his second day on the job, he was putting a friendly face on Newport's strong police presence.

Perhaps the most visible measure in the city's new push to tame Fourth of July activities was a barricade that prevented people from entering Balboa Boulevard at West Coast Highway. They had to disperse and walk to Newport Boulevard or Prospect Street, which killed many buzzes and warmed a few beers.

City officials took this and other measures to make West Newport a more "family-friendly" place for the Fourth of July.

"I don't want to be uncomfortable bringing my kids around here," said Johnson, who has three children under 10.

But some revelers complained about the display of force. A total of 246 peace officers patrolled the streets — 140 from Newport Beach Police Department, 60 from nearby agencies and others from the California Highway Patrol and the Orange County Sheriffs Department.

They walked, drove in marked and unmarked cars, and rode mountain bikes and ATVs. Officers stopped by parties before they started, talking to residents and explaining the rules and risks of partying.

"You're going to change the complexion of Newport Beach," said Marty Bright, 67, who has owned a home on 42nd Street since the 1970s. "We're appealing to young people with our restaurants and rentals, and young people like to party."

Bright was lounging on his patio, sipping a glass of red wine as Johnson and a captain spoke to some of his guests. He hung a massive American flag, spanning the width of a city street.

"They're very friendly," Bright said of the patrolling police, "but I'm not sure if it's really necessary."

Johnson said the police visibility was really not overbearing, as some might perceive.

"It could appear that way, but they don't understand the bigger picture," he said. "A lot of problems don't happen because of a strong police presence."

Earlier, Johnson drove down Balboa Boulevard and said he was trying to assess the temperament of the revelers.

"This looks like a good crowd," he said, cruising past a bustling party.

A beer-holding girl clad in a skimpy bikini pushed her way back into a crowded yard, off the sidewalk.

That was at 2 p.m., before the party really got going. Later in his patrol, the chief would come across sheriff's deputy who had his cruiser's rear window bashed in by a drunkard's head.

"People just don't think as well when they're intoxicated," Johnson said.

He should know: For 23 years he worked in the Fourth of July operations at the Long Beach Police Department, policing Belmont Shore and the nearby peninsula, an area that area draws a similar party crowd.

In some parts of Long Beach, Johnson had to be careful about showing too much police force, as it could spark violence. Newport wasn't like that, he said, after people on Balboa Boulevard asked him about certain officers by name. Others offered him and his captain burgers.

"Most people here are very pro-police," Johnson said.

You can count Lindsay Johnson in that group, after she vented to the chief and his captain about the extra walk to the peninsula. "They seem like really nice guys," she said.

Unconvinced were two college students who walked by with a 30-pack of Coors Light, complaining that they had missed part of their party during the detour.

"It's going to be inconvenient for some," Johnson said later, "but we're looking at the greater good and how we can change the culture."

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