The young San Fernando Valley couple were strolling on the beach just north of Santa Monica Pier about 1 a.m. on Aug. 19 when they were confronted by five men. The man was assaulted and the woman, who is 18, was raped repeatedly.
Less than a week later, in broad daylight, a 43-year-old woman was sunbathing on Santa Monica Beach in front of a cottage in the 1200 block of Pacific Coast Highway. When two men began to harass her, she returned to the cottage. The men entered the house through a window and one of them raped her.
The victims all assumed they were safe on a public beach, police said. Like thousands of others, they looked upon the beach as a safe, romantic playground.
The crimes occurred in Santa Monica, but police said they are typical of what has been an ongoing problem along the coastline between Malibu and Playa del Rey. Police also said, however, that stepped-up patrols and arrests and citations of people who drink or use drugs on the beach and in adjacent parking lots have reduced the number of incidents over the last few years.
Between January and August, Santa Monica beach crimes included a homicide, a kidnaping, six rapes and 10 robberies.
"I would imagine that every beach community has the same problems, but the freeway ends here," said Santa Monica Police Sgt. Frank Fabrega.
At Venice Beach, which is patrolled by the Los Angeles Police Department's Pacific Division, two rapes, two attempted rapes, one rape-robbery, one case of sexual battery (which led to the arrest of five people) and one case of lewd conduct had been reported this year as of Aug. 23.
At Playa del Rey, one rape-kidnaping had been reported.
Capt. Mark Squiers of the Malibu Sheriff's Station reported that from January through June, five rapes, four robberies and 11 assaults occurred at beaches in his jurisdiction.
Statistics for West Los Angeles beaches, which include the waterfront from Santa Monica to the city-county border on the north, include seven auto thefts, 33 burglaries from cars, two robberies and one purse snatching.
Santa Monica's Fabrega said it is difficult to guard people who think they are in no danger on the beach.
"We'll find a couple walking along the beach late at night and tell them about the danger, and they will say, 'We can do what we want to do. You can't tell us we can't have fun.' "
Fabrega pointed out a couple snuggled together on a blanket about midnight near the Santa Monica Pier, close to the site of the gang rape that had occurred a week before.
The man, when told about crime on the beaches, looked surprised and asked, "What crime?"
An hour later, when Fabrega cruised past the spot again, the couple were still there. Fabrega shrugged as if to say, "What did I tell you?"
At another spot, two women sat on a blanket. Evelyn Gomez, 39, and Edith Lomeli, 29, said they were from Boyle Heights and had come to the beach to escape the heat. They usually stay until about midnight, they said. Last summer, just south of the pier, they said they had been approached by a man who was "acting off the wall." They left when he harassed them. Even so, they did not feel they were in any danger sitting on the beach late at night, they said.
Santa Monica, Venice and West Los Angeles beaches are patrolled night and day by officers in four-wheel drive vehicles. At Santa Monica, the harbor master occasionally makes a sweep of the beaches, Fabrega said.
Officers on bicycles also patrol the Venice boardwalk. Members of Los Angeles Police Department's mounted unit and CRASH, the department's anti-gang crime unit, periodically police Venice and Playa del Rey beaches.
At Malibu, 18 additional deputies were brought in from all over the county to patrol the beaches during the summer. They work in four-wheel-drive vehicles, and concentrate on the enforcement of alcohol ordinances, according to Capt. Squiers.
Squiers said the detail made 1,227 arrests and citations between Memorial Day and the third week in August. "The preponderance of those were alcohol . . . and nudity on the beach. We made 67 arrests for felony narcotics."
Police offered some tips to help beachgoers avoid becoming crime victims. Fabrega urged people not to stay on the sand late at night and Officer John Beeson of West Los Angeles warned against parking in beach lots at night. Even though the lots are officially closed at night, he said, gang members from all over the city gather at places like Will Rogers Beach. Often the chains placed across lot entrances at 10 p.m. are broken by vandals, he said.
Sgt. Mike Mines of the Pacific Division's beach patrol said the usual, obvious safeguards used anywhere should be applied at the beach: "Don't leave valuables unattended at the beach and make sure your car is locked."