The police chiefs of Huntington Beach and Newport Beach, two cities marred by recent holiday violence, told a state Senate panel Thursday that Orange County's law enforcement agencies should receive training to combat riots.
Earl Robitaille of Huntington Beach and Arb Campbell of Newport Beach said that during the late 1960s and early 1970s, when violent demonstrations and riots were more frequent, Orange County police agencies received periodic riot training at the Los Alamitos Naval Air Station. They said the practice was discontinued years ago.
The two police chiefs spoke before the Senate Committee on Local Government, chaired by Sen. Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach). The panel is looking into ways to help local police departments deal with violence of the type that broke out on Aug. 31 in Huntington Beach during the finals of the Op Professional Surfing Championships. Thousands of youths battled with police and set several police and lifeguard vehicles afire.
During more than an hour of violence, 40 people, including 10 police officers, were injured. Police have thus far arrested 30 people allegedly involved in the melee.
In Newport Beach, police were called on to quell violence that broke out the night of July 4 near the beach.
"This is the first resurrection of this kind of activity in a lot of years," Robitaille said at Thursday's special committee hearing in Huntington Beach.
He said the rioting that erupts during large gatherings is spontaneous and is one reason that different police departments called in to assist must be properly trained in effective riot-control tactics.
"It is usually ignited by something you would not consider at all," he said. "But I would like to see Orange County (police departments) train together for a while."
Campbell, who took over the 139-member Newport Beach police force earlier this year, said that all police officers need not take the joint riot training. He recommended that police supervisors undergo the training and then return to their own departments and instruct officers.
"I don't feel that (training and cooperation between police departments) exist today. I think all officers should be in tune with other departments," Campbell said.
Before the police chiefs addressed the Senate committee, the panel viewed an 18-minute videotape that showed the violence at Huntington Beach on Labor Day weekend.
Bergeson said the purpose of the meeting was to gather information on the beach melee to give legislators a sense of how the state can help local police departments prevent rioting. She also voiced concern that a few instigators were responsible for disturbing otherwise calm gatherings, such as the surfing championships in Huntington Beach.
"We simply can't put up with bullies who threatened the safety of our citizens," she said.
Robitaille also told the committee that the videotape, which was spliced together from film provided by citizens at the beach the day of the rioting, was instrumental in identifying many of the suspects arrested. Police this week arrested eight people they said were positively identified through the videotapes.
"Some people were asked to pose while they were rioting, and they were stupid enough to do it," the police chief said.