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Identifying Ways to Prevent Repeat of Melee in Huntington Beach

July 17, 1994

* I live a short distance from the downtown Huntington Beach area. July 4, about 10 p.m., I was returning from a friend's home when heavy traffic forced me off PCH and onto 9th Street. As I drove down Walnut Avenue toward Main Street, the crowds were restless and intimidating. Police presence was apparent, and in some ways even more intimidating. The problems that developed were easily anticipated, as were citizen complaints.

It seems apparent that any crowd becomes bolder and more aggressive when protected by the anonymity of large numbers and darkness. We are powerless to affect that situation, so a strong police presence is necessary to protect the community.

Some officers, because of fear or cruelty, overreact and strike out indiscriminately. Because each officer is individually anonymous, the citizenry is terribly exposed to violence perpetrated by certain officers. If only two people wearing dark uniforms, helmets and face masks lose control and hurt innocent people, the entire force is stigmatized and the entire community is injured.

Next year all officers should be required to have either their last name or a large number stenciled on their protective vests, both front and back, in a high-visibility color. Each officer, knowing that he can be readily identified, will be sure that his actions could bring personal accountability. We cannot control crowd anonymity, but anonymous police are not necessary.

Further, extensive use of video cameras should be considered. A few cameras mounted high along Main Street, a few carried by concerned citizens, and police encouragement for news media video coverage make sense. The tapes could be used later to identify lawbreakers, assess police tactics and generally reduce the anonymity provided by crowds, darkness and uniforms.

The only solution to the kind of insanity that visits our community every Fourth of July is a strategy to ensure individual accountability. Blaming a crowd of rioters or a group of police officers guarantees that guilty individuals behave with impunity while the rest of us pay.

LEE O'CONNOR

Huntington Beach

* I am ashamed, appalled and embarrassed to say, "I am a resident of Huntington Beach."

It was bad enough that Huntington Beach made it on TV and in the news because of the night of the Fourth of July with the fires and out-of-control groups being hauled away to jail. But to hear that the clowns that were in the Huntington Beach Fourth of July parade were attacked with water pistols and some string stuff that ruined their makeup and costumes so badly that later in the day some of them could not be part of the Anaheim Hills parade, that is really the pits of life!

It's going to be a long time before I tell anyone I live in Huntington Beach!

PATRICIA STEINER

Huntington Beach

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