LA MIRADA — Like a lot of cops, Rick Broussard could sense trouble before he could see it. "There's something going on around here, too many kids."
Minutes later, a glance up San Antonio Avenue told him he was in the right place. "There it is, there it is," he announced, a slight gleam of victory edging his voice as his partner turned their unmarked Chevy onto the street. "It's time to swoop like the hawk."
A house party--a very big one--was in progress, teeming with the clean-cut youths of La Mirada and environs. Young people spilled out of the backyard onto the driveway and the sidewalks and the street. One of them cradled a beer in his hand. It was enough to propel Broussard and his toothpick-chewing partner, Ron Blyleven, into pursuit.
The two were, that recent Saturday night, manning the park-party patrol, a special, plainclothes sheriff's unit hired by the city. For a six-hour, overtime shift on weekend nights, the patrol is the official party pooper of La Mirada.
Cruises for Carousers
It is the unit's job to answer calls about raucous gatherings, and to cruise local parks and parking lots, scanning the dark reaches for people who have chosen public places to do their carousing. Especially young people.
"It's the same thing we all did at that age," said Broussard, a slight man dressed, like Blyleven, in blue jeans and a green, sheriff's windbreaker. "Most of these kids aren't bad. They're usually middle- to upper-middle class. They can afford better beer than I can buy."
Exactly what brand of beer the teen-ager on San Antonio was holding was unclear. Beckoned by the party patrol, he flashed a sullen look, tossed his drink into the bushes and disappeared into the backyard throng.
Undeterred, Broussard and Blyleven won permission from the host parent to crash. They waded past bodies wriggling to dance music on the packed patio, peering into the semihostile faces in search of the offending drinker.
Collared, the 17-year-old from Fullerton had bleached blond hair, a crucifix around his neck, and a sheepish expression. "I'm sorry sir," he professed as he stood on the street by the park-party car, the thrill of an underage drink gone flat with the specter of arrest and irate parents.
His friends looked on. "Excuse me sir, can I take him home?," beseeched one.
Docility did the trick. After chewing him out, the party patrol let the boy go, suggesting to the house owner that it would be nice if he shut the festivities down before midnight. Amid predictions of a return engagement, the sheriff's officers hit the road.
On a slow spin through the parking lot of La Mirada Park, they passed several dark, parked cars. A jean jacket had been carefully draped over the rolled-up driver's window of a BMW. Blyleven walked over, using his flashlight to illuminate the activities of the young couple inside. A head popped into view.
"Don't you think this is kind of conspicuous?" he asked. "The people across the street are getting upset."
Earlier, Blyleven noted, "You'd be amazed at the compromising positions we come across."
Why bother young love? "We don't know if the lady is there willingly or not," he said.
Besides, the city would rather not have passion in the parks.
Ditto for empty beer bottles.
"I think that's the major thing that aggravates the City Council, the trash," said Broussard, who left his job as a machinist nine years ago to become a sheriff's deputy. ("I got tired of being greasy.")
Not only do young men and women violate local ordinances by drinking in La Mirada's numerous, well-groomed parks, they also leave the discarded beverage containers behind on the clipped, lush grass, or stashed under swings and jungle gyms.
Several six packs worth of bottles had been strewn about the sandy play area of a green belt in one quiet neighborhood. "Just missed 'em, this is still pretty cold to the touch," observed Blyleven as he reached down and scooped up a recently drained bottle.
Broussard, 37, and Blyleven, 40, have varied scouting strategies, depending on the terrain of the park they are checking. At one park, they silently skirted a wall to sneak up on the crest of a hill favored by youthful celebrants. "Kids like to sit here and drink," explained Blyleven, a detective during regular hours. "It's like the military, you're on high ground and can see what's happening."
At another park, they steered the car down a horse trail, over a bridge, through a tunnel, and past dense thickets. The only thing hopping was a black and white rabbit, so tame it seemed a pet gone astray.
Carl's Jr, a popular fast-food hangout on Rosecrans Avenue, was another story. A sporty yellow hatchback had followed a Volkswagen full of girls into the parking lot. The hatchback was being navigated in a manner that caught the attention of the party patrol.