PICO RIVERA — Officers from six law enforcement agencies have joined forces on the ground and through the airwaves in a new effort to control cruising in and around this city.
And last Sunday, at least, the officers successfully managed the massive gridlock that occurs here when young men and women hit the road to meet each other and show off their cars.
The crackdown was precipitated when hundreds of cruisers had a street party that blocked three lanes of the Pomona (60) Freeway north of the city last week. The California Highway Patrol asked for an emergency meeting of law enforcement agencies, which took place last Thursday--the day after the incident--in the basement of the Montebello police station.
As a result, on Sunday there was direct radio contact for the first time among the police departments of Whittier and Montebello, the sheriff's stations at Pico Rivera and Temple City, and the Highway Patrol offices in East Los Angeles and Santa Fe Springs. Usually, officers go through dispatchers to communicate with another agency.
Lt. James Ware of the Pico Rivera sheriff's office said the direct communication was crucial because a minute either way can make or break the effort to literally head cruisers off at the pass, or in this case, the entrances to Whittier, Beverly and Rosemead boulevards.
Those streets are the preferred cruising strips in Pico Rivera, although the lines of traffic also enter adjacent neighborhoods if the main roads are blocked off. The more sophisticated cruisers use beepers and cellular phones to chart each other's location and share information about ways past street barriers, which authorities long have been using on popular cruising nights.
In Sunday's crackdown, the officers' goal was to create a flexible funnel that would channel cruisers onto the freeways, where low-speed cruising is difficult, and divide cruisers' ranks in the process. In order for this to happen, the officers, at a moment's notice, had to react to cruisers' attempts to enter the city from different directions.
When the cruisers changed routes, the officers quickly responded--repositioning barricades and roadblocks and sometimes actually turning motorists around. The Highway Patrol also closed seven freeway off-ramps to keep cruisers from re-entering Pico Rivera.
The first-ever radio coordination allowed the different agencies to act in concert for the entire traffic region, which typically extends to Montebello in the west, Whittier in the east, the Pomona (60) Freeway to the north and Washington Boulevard in Pico Rivera to the south.
On Sunday, in addition to racing from one key intersection to another, Pico Rivera deputies handed out 133 citations for a variety of offenses, including ignoring traffic barriers, driving without a proper license or seat belt, operating an illegally modified vehicle and playing boom boxes at too high a volume. Pico Rivera deputies alone towed eight vehicles and arrested one cruiser for carrying a gun and another for driving under the influence of cocaine.
Even so, it was a quiet night, most officers agreed: less gridlock and fewer hassles than usual during the prime cruising time from mid-afternoon until after midnight.
"We were very pleased," Ware said. "The cooperation . . . was outstanding."
Cruising is hardly a new phenomenon in California. Los Angeles officials have taken steps to relieve cruising-related congestion on such major thoroughfares as Hollywood Boulevard and Ventura Boulevard. And in Modesto, the town that inspired the movie "American Graffiti," city fathers voted earlier this year to ban the activity from their streets.
But banning cruising by law and actually eliminating it are two different matters. And past enforcement efforts, even when they seem to work, usually have just pushed cruisers into someone else's jurisdiction. Pico Rivera's own cruising problem has been exacerbated by successful attempts to push cruisers out of East Los Angeles and off Whittier Boulevard in Montebello and Whittier.
Magazines that cater to customized car and motorcycle enthusiasts currently rate Pico Rivera as a cruising hot spot, and the number of cruisers has increased steadily over the last four years on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays to as many as 8,000 cars, packed mostly with Latino youths, city and law enforcement officials said.
"It used to die down from the end of summer until Christmas vacation," Ware said. "Now there doesn't seem to be any slack time, unless it starts raining early on Sunday."
Said Sheriff's Detective Gabe Velasquez: "It's cheap entertainment for them. Have you seen the price of a movie lately?"
When the cruisers arrive in force, traffic slows to a crawl, blocking the roads for residents as well as police and paramedics. And when cruisers get past barriers into residential neighborhoods, their noisy street parties create disturbances.