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Next L.A. | Idea: Braking the Cruisers

Easing Up After a Crackdown on Cruising Pays Off

August 06, 1996|SHELBY GRAD

Saturday night cruising in Jean Patton's Balboa Peninsula neighborhood used to be so bad that a trip to the grocery store meant getting out her old three-speed bicycle and pedaling alongside rows of idling cars.

"You had all these kids in their cars honking horns, shouting, cranking up the music. . . . ," Patton said. "It was the summer ritual."

Not anymore. After a community outcry, police in several Orange County cities cracked down on the weekend custom that had come to symbolize Southern California's post-World War II car culture.

In Newport Beach, city officials are so convinced that they have the problem licked that they recently began removing some of the barricades and "No Cruising" signs along Balboa Boulevard. Anaheim and Santa Ana have had similar success.

"We sent a clear message to people that cruising is not permitted in this county," Santa Ana Police Lt. Michael Foote said. He attributes the turnaround to an aggressive anti-cruising strategy devised in the late 1980s by law enforcement agencies.

Santa Ana used an elaborate computerized checkpoint system and street barricades to deter drivers along South Bristol Street. Officers established traffic checkpoints, stopping each car and taking down the license number and driver's name. The information was fed into a computer.

If the car showed up at other checkpoints later in the evening, police were able to prove that the driver was cruising. Those caught cruising received traffic citations and in some cases were arrested and had their cars impounded.

The city also closed off several side streets and asked some shopping center owners to close their parking lots to discourage cruisers from congregating.

The effort took more than 100 officers a night, but it worked. Cruising on Bristol is down dramatically, Foote said, and the word is out that Santa Ana is off limits.

There may, however, be a disturbing side effect. Some say that young people have simply turned their attention to an even more troubling activity: drag racing.

"Nobody cruises anymore--the laws are too strict," said Chris Tran, co-owner of Speed Image, a high-performance body shop in Santa Ana. "Drag racing has taken over."

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