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Quiet Summer Nights Along the Beaches : * Earlier Curfews Are Credited for Declines in Drinking, Vandalism and Violence

September 12, 1993

The deliciously cool summer made bonfires on the beach more than just a romantic sight; they brought welcome warmth as well. Unfortunately, the fires got doused earlier than in summers past in Orange County, as curfews at many beaches chased people away at 10 p.m. instead of midnight.

Officials in Huntington Beach, Newport Beach and Seal Beach said the earlier closing times, cool weather and close attention from police made the beaches quieter, nicer places. They reported fewer incidents of drinking, vandalism and perhaps violence than they expected had the curfew stayed at midnight. And they said they saw no evidence that those who used to come to the beach to party excessively simply switched their venues inland.

Laguna Beach suffered three violent incidents on its city beach this year, two of them in the summer. Yet the city resisted pressure to impose a curfew and instead increased police patrols. So far it has proved a wise decision.

The summer was nearly over when four-wheel-drive Orange County Sheriff's Department vehicles began patrolling the beach at San Clemente. The reason wasn't violence on the beach, but a desire to be visible to residents of a city that recently did away with its own police force and turned law enforcement over to sheriff's deputies.

The patrols are expected to last another four or five weeks, unless the weather unexpectedly turns for the worse and chases beach-goers away.

Some sun-worshippers were happy to see skateboarders at the pier take off for fear of the deputies; a few businessmen said vandalism ended when the deputies appeared.

Police patrols are turning out to be a good idea at both San Clemente and Laguna Beach. It's unfortunate the curfews had to be in place at beaches farther north, but given the quiet this time, it will be difficult to make a convincing case for lifting them next year.

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