Responding to complaints from elementary school teachers about homosexual activity at Harbor Regional Park in Wilmington, Los Angeles police have arrested 20 men at the park during the past six weeks for soliciting acts of prostitution, authorities said last week.
The arrests, two of which were made during an undercover operation last weekend, followed a decision in April by the Los Angeles Unified School District to cancel all field trips to the park because teachers and pupils visiting the park had, on several occasions, come across naked men engaged in sexual acts, the authorities said.
"I think it is a shame that we have to consider any place off-limits" to school children, said Harbor Division Police Capt. Robert McVey. "I am going to do everything in my power to make them feel more confident so that they can come back."
Lewd Acts Reported
School officials removed Harbor Regional Park from the district's directory of approved field trip sites after several teachers and bus drivers notified district officials about homosexual activity at the north end of the park in an area overgrown with trees and brush, said Patricia Boerger, an administrative consultant to the associate superintendent.
The district has received similar complaints about the Ferndell section of Griffith Park, prompting school officials to ban trips to that area, too, she said.
No children were involved in any of the incidents, Boerger said, and police said they have received no reports of child molestation at the parks.
Popular With Schools
Bud Dunevant, director of transportation for the school district, said the district ran about 65 field trips a year to Harbor Regional Park, primarily for kindergarten students who visited the park's nature trail and lake. Park officials said buses also stopped at the park for picnic lunches after visiting the Cabrillo Marine Museum in San Pedro.
Harbor Regional Park, a sprawling 231-acre city-owned park adjacent to Los Angeles Harbor College, includes a swimming pool, golf course, soccer field, campground, nature trail and baseball fields. Park officials said maintenance crews and recreation staff attempt to patrol the area along with the police and a park ranger, but they said the park is too large for constant surveillance.
"It is a unique park because it is so huge," said Jane Rasco, supervisor of recreation in the harbor area for the city's Department of Recreation and Parks. "It is right off the (Harbor) freeway and near a main street. Any large park that is convenient to get to is going to have problems."
Roger Williams, director of recreation at the park, said the homosexual activity takes place at the north end of the park, a partially swampy area near the intersection of Pacific Coast Highway and Vermont Avenue, far from the recreational and nature areas of the park.
"Most of the people don't use that area," said Williams, adding that he has never witnessed the homosexual activity. "It is a tough area to get into. We sent the California Conservation Corps in there about a year and a half ago to cut the brush and clean it up, but you can't really do anything. You clear a little bit of the brush and you hit water."
School officials, however, said teachers and some pupils witnessed the activity along trails that cut through the wooded, northern section of the park.
"The teacher just rushed them on," Boerger said of one incident, in which a teacher and a group of pupils stumbled across two naked men "cavorting in the area."
Police have also received complaints from residents about homosexual activity in restrooms at Banning Park in Wilmington and Point Fermin Park in San Pedro, but McVey said Harbor Regional Park is the only park in the harbor area where the activity is common outdoors.
"There is an underground knowledge that if you go to these places you are going to find action," he said.
Police will continue undercover operations at the park, and park officials vowed to increase their visibility, too, in an effort to discourage the homosexual activity. Rasco said the Department of Recreation and Parks has suggested that the school district submit a schedule of field trips to the department so that parks officials can be certain to be on hand when children arrive, but school officials said they have no immediate plans to resume excursions to the park.
"I wouldn't want to push them into anything that they feel would jeopardize their children, but I am going to try to continue our activity there so that maybe they will reconsider their decision," McVey said.