In a parking lot near the beach in Playa del Rey, a youth was stabbed in a fight involving several gangs.
Beneath the pier in Hermosa Beach, a belligerent teen-ager, apparently high on drugs, was wrestled to the ground by police and dragged away in handcuffs.
At King Harbor in Redondo Beach, eight people were arrested for fights and other violations and 88 others were cited for drunkenness, public consumption of alcohol and similar offenses.
It was Fourth of July weekend in the South Bay, a traditional time for family picnics, beach parties, volleyball tournaments, cookouts--and the start of stepped-up law enforcement on beaches from Playa del Rey to San Pedro.
Weather and Problems
"The summer patrol begins when school lets outs, but the season really gets under way during the Fourth," said agent Mark Rodina, who patrols the pier in Redondo Beach. "Once the weather heats up, the problems heat up."
"People are a little more volatile when it is warm," added Capt. Val Straser, who heads the beach patrol in Hermosa Beach. "It all goes along with the high temperatures in July, August and September."
County lifeguards and South Bay beach patrol officers say law enforcement along the coast this season--including cooperation between lifeguards and police agencies in making arrests and divvying responsibilities--has run relatively smoothly since high school students began flocking to the beaches and oceanfront entertainment areas shortly before Memorial Day.
Several law enforcement agencies and the county lifeguard division report that while citations for minor offenses are slightly up this summer over last year, crowds by and large have been disciplined at beaches and piers.
Officials attribute much of the success to a "give and take" between highly visible beach patrols and beachgoers. Hermosa Beach and Manhattan Beach have allocated additional full-time officers to beach-area details this year, and Redondo Beach is marking the first anniversary of a $200,000 police substation that provides officers with a panoramic view of the busy pier.
Relatively cool temperatures and overcast skies have helped by keeping crowds below peak levels during much of the summer thus far.
"What we are doing is as much a PR (public relations) detail as an enforcement detail," said Lt. Bruce Powell, coordinator of the beach patrol in Manhattan Beach. "People are up-tight from the pressure of the job, or maybe they can't afford to go on any other vacation. They come to the beach, they let their hair down and get rowdy. We understand that. You can't go down and arrest everybody. You have to have a give and take."
Last weekend, when temperatures soared and most police departments doubled or tripled beach patrols because of holiday crowds, there were numerous skateboard and roller-skating accidents, several intoxicated swimmers and surfers rescued from the ocean, a collision between a man in a wheelchair and a bicyclist, and numerous arrests for fighting, drug dealing and marijuana use.
"Things have been pretty normal," said relief Lt. Dan Cromp, a county lifeguard who works out of the South Bay substation in Hermosa Beach. "We've got some gang fights, juvenile drinking, kids throwing sand and doing the normal horseplay. . . . It is annoying and it bothers people, but it is nothing out of the ordinary."
Alcohol consumption--forbidden on all South Bay beaches--has been the biggest problem at the area's most visited beaches in Redondo, Hermosa and Manhattan. Lifeguards in those cities said police efforts to strictly enforce the alcohol ordinances have made their jobs easier.
"Our hardest rescues are the people who have been drinking," one lifeguard said. "With the police departments controlling the alcohol consumption, we can spend our time on other things."
"There is a lot of pressure from the lifeguards to keep the surfers, the gangs and the parking lots watched so they can watch the water," Powell said. "The beach has become a place to gather, to drink beer, smoke pot and deal heavier drugs."
Cromp said cooperation between the lifeguards, who often first spot incidents, and the beach patrol officers becomes crucial once a major problem unfolds.
"It is not just sitting here in the tower watching the water," he said. "We've had lifeguards stabbed, shot, punched and hit with things. We often have to intercede until the police get there. We let the police handle our matters as much as possible."
In Manhattan Beach, Powell said, two full-time officers patrol the beach daily during June, July, August and the first half of September. The most serious problems usually arrive at the end of the season, he said, when teen-agers are getting bored or anxious about returning to school.