The city panel assigned to evaluate the circumstances surrounding Huntington Beach's Labor Day weekend riot, in which hundreds of youths turned on police, will hold its first meeting at 10 a.m. today.
Mayor Robert P. Mandic Jr., who appointed the nine-member commission last week after more than 300 citizens packed the council chambers to discuss the Aug. 31 riot, said the group will review footage of the rampage and "kick around some ideas" regarding better crowd-control tactics and the handling of the annual Ocean Pacific Pro Surfing Championships.
The violence erupted behind the viewing stands of the surfing contest after police apparently tried to rescue two young women from a group of men who were trying to remove the women's bikini tops.
Police have blamed the violence on young people hanging around the contest area. The 20,000 surf-contest viewers are not believed by police to be involved in triggering the brawl. Ten police officers and about 30 beachgoers were injured by youths hurling rocks and beer bottles. Six police and lifeguard vehicles were set on fire and about 20 officers briefly were trapped inside a large lifeguard building. More than 150 police officers were eventually called in from agencies throughout Orange County to put an end to the violence.
"I just want to go over some ideas, get (the) Op (surf contest) back (next year), and talk about some more precautions police can take," Mandic said Monday. "We'll probably have more police, but we haven't made any firm decisions yet."
Huntington Beach Police Sgt. Ron Jenkins agreed.
"After this year, we'll have to have more (police)," he said. "Even if it's just to let the (offenders) know it's not going to happen again."
Some observers have questioned whether having only 20 police officers on hand was prudent, given the popularity of the surfing contest and the enormous crowds that usually flock to the beaches on a holiday weekend. Officials estimated that about 100,000 people were on the beach when the riot broke out.
"Last year, we had 20 cops out there and that was too many," Sgt. Jenkins said. "This year we could have used more. I don't know how you foretell something like that. It's really a guessing game."
Lt. John Foster, a former beach patrol commander who now works in the Police Department's vice division, said that sensitivity to cost and the department's aggressive image may have played a role in having a limited number of officers on the scene.
"I think we relaxed some, but I don't think we sold the farm," Foster said. "The department has to reach a critical balance between being sufficiently present and not omnipresent. If we are omnipresent then we either are criticized, or in fact do ruin the event."
Surprised by Violence
However, Foster added, "if we are understaffed, we run the risk of something like this happening. In this instant, I think what happened was that we had a force that was sufficient for a crowd that large (but not) a crowd that violent."
Along with assigning more police to next year's contest, other suggestions to be discussed at the City Hall meeting today are scheduling the surf contest on a non-holiday weekend and fencing off the contest area.
Mandic said the panel will meet two or three times before coming up with a final report for the City Council.
Today's meeting will be in a conference room on the fourth floor of City Hall.