Salvador (Stranger) Pineda, like other gang members, is used to the routine: cops detaining him for half an hour at a time, sometimes searching him, sometimes snapping pictures, always asking questions.
"We're lucky if we don't get stopped," said Pineda, 18, standing near an unmarked Redondo Beach police car in a parking lot near the city pier. "They keep telling us to leave; they don't want us here, but it's a public place.
"People can come here to have fun--even gang bangers."
More and more gang bangers--slang for members--have been traveling to the Redondo pier during the past few years, sometimes looking for fun and sometimes looking for trouble, which they often find.
Gang Unit Formed
To quell the fights, vandalism, graffiti and other problems, the Redondo Beach Police Department recently formed a Gang Suppression Unit, quadrupling the force it has on and around the pier.
Police will not disclose the number of officers assigned to the unit, but in the first five days of operation, the unit made 18 felony and 38 misdemeanor arrests, issued 237 citations and interviewed 80 other suspected gang members.
The arrests and citations by the unit, which has been operating full time since June 27, were for offenses such as armed robbery, speeding, marijuana possession, and littering.
"There are a lot of gangs coming down here," said Sgt. Randy Martin, head of the unit. The gangs come primarily from Los Angeles, Compton, Inglewood, Carson, Long Beach and Torrance, he said.
Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach and Manhattan Beach do not have any active gangs, Martin said.
Gang-related crime increased 200% in Los Angeles County since last year, Martin said, largely becausegangs were getting more involved in drug dealing.
The gangs coming to Redondo are black, Latino, Samoan or Asian, and rarely cross ethnic lines, he said.
The Vietnamese gangs are particularly violent and have been known to carry Uzi machine guns elsewhere, he said, but Redondo police have not confiscated any machine guns.
"We made it very clear that nobody's going to claim this pier," Martin said. "They come here because it's an interesting place to go and it's free." Nevertheless, he said, with so many rivals in such a geographically small location, the potential for trouble is great.
The most serious gang-related problem at the pier in recent months was a shooting outside a restaurant on the boardwalk between two factions of the Crips, a predominantly black gang with an estimated 12,000 members in Los Angeles County.
Five shots were fired in the May 29 incident. Two 17-year-olds were hit in the legs and two men, ages 21 and 18, were arrested minutes later for attempted murder.
The Crips' target is usually the Bloods gang. The Bloods, also known as the Pirus, is also a predominantly black gang with about 9,000 members countywide.
Police attribute the increase in gang activity in Redondo Beach to crackdowns in other coastal areas such as Venice Beach and Santa Monica.
"They don't want to be in downtown L.A. They've got to go somewhere. They go where it's cooler--to the beaches," Martin said.
Gangs showed up in greater numbers during Easter break and have been frequenting the pier more often since school let out for the summer, which is at least somewhat encouraging since it suggests the gang members still attend school, Martin said.
Police and pier business representatives said visitors do not have to fear for their safety on the pier because the officers are always nearby.
Jenine Gonzales, assistant manager of a gift shop on the pier, said she has seen a couple of gang-related chases and fights, but is not concerned. "Hardly anything bothers me here because I trust the police officers that much," she said.
Bother Pier Users
"And gangs generally mess with other gangs," Martin said. "Gangs rarely mess with other people." Even so, Martin said the police realize that fistfights and other gang-related problems bother pier users, "and we can't allow that to happen."
It did happen last week, however. Thirteen members of the Bloods, including two girls, were arrested for armed robbery after they mistook four boys for Crips--one of whom was able to run away.
The four boys were wearing British Knights athletic shoes, which have a "BK" emblem on them.
The Bloods interpreted the emblem as "Blood Killers" and forcibly removed the boys' shoes, which they threw into the ocean, and then robbed them, Martin said.
Police arrested all 13 a short time later on another part of the pier and found a .45-caliber automatic pistol in one of the gang members' car.
Some Bloods wear red "Crip Killer" hats--a "CK" with the C crossed out.
Police look for these and other gang members who are "flying their colors" via their clothing, usually shoelaces, bandannas or hats. Crips wear blue--and sometimes brown--and the Bloods wear red.
Police look for other clues, too, such as a style of dress--often baggy pants or a baseball cap worn backward, or several teen-age boys spread out and walking in cocky manner.