Police bolster Sunday afternoon Mission Beach patrols | Officers say they won’t let gangs get a foothold

June 21, 1998 No Comments

Ruth L. McKinnie. The San Diego Union – Tribune. San Diego, Calif.: Jun 21, 1998. pg. B.1

It was like a scene out of the old television series “Miami Vice.” Surf. Sand. Gangs. Guns.

But it wasn’t Miami; it was Mission Beach, summer of 1995.

Two bystanders were shot on a balmy Sunday afternoon in Mission Bay Park while police chased two men who were shooting at each other. A near riot erupted when hundreds in the crowd thought — erroneously, police said — that the bystanders had been shot by officers.

That same summer, police closed Belmont Park, a popular Mission Beach amusement park, after rival gangs clashed there. A man was shot with his own handgun during an argument over a Bonita Cove parking space. And in another outburst of violence, a man near Vacation Village was hit by a bullet fired from a passing car.

This year’s beach season got off to a rocky start on a Sunday afternoon early last month. More than 100 gang members confronted one another. Gang signs were exchanged, tempers flared and a brawl erupted and spilled out onto Mission Boulevard near Ventura Place. The boulevard was closed for 30 minutes until peace could be restored.

Police officials aren’t certain why trouble seems to strike only on Sunday afternoons. Capt. Steve Creighton, who heads the division responsible for Mission Beach, said the problem was there when he was a rookie in the early 1970s. But it has been escalating in recent years.

So, as lifeguards have taken up their positions in towers up and down the beach, San Diego police in recent weeks have added to the contingent of officers patrolling Mission Beach, particularly on Sunday afternoons.

“We’re just not going to allow the gangs to get a foothold; it’s just not going to happen,” Creighton said. “The department is going to do everything it can to make sure that people of any color can go down to the beach and have a good time.”

South Mission Beach jetty is the favorite spot of two rival black gangs, Creighton said, while the area around Belmont Park is the preferred spot for Latino gangs. White gang members also have been seen in Mission Beach.

Add alcohol consumption, traffic congestion and the summer heat to a mix of gang and racial tension, and the potential for violence skyrockets.

Last Sunday afternoon was comparatively quiet. The area around the south jetty, where police have set up a command post, was somewhat crowded. But the young people who sat on picnic tables or car hoods, played basketball and enjoyed the sun were not gang members.

One man was seen waving a gun from his car as he drove down Mission Boulevard, Creighton said. And a parolee tried to run from officers after he was stopped on the beach for having a dog without a leash. He eventually was apprehended and found to have a small amount of methamphetamine in his pocket.

A full contingent of officers, some on foot, on motorcycles and on all-terrain vehicles, patrols Mission Beach, with an eye toward alcohol violations.

“We find if we keep (alcohol consumption) under control, everything else stays under control,” said Sgt. Toby Freestone, who is in charge of one of the teams of officers that patrols the beach area.

Officers who concentrate on drug and gang problems also are on hand, as are probation and parole officers in search of people violating their conditions of release.

In the wake of violence three years ago, the City Council passed a ban on cruising — driving back and forth past a given spot. The ban covers a half-mile stretch of Mission Boulevard from Belmont Park south to the jetty and runs from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on weekends and holidays.

Some officers say the law is difficult to enforce.

But that hasn’t stopped them from setting up checkpoints to hand out fliers on the cruising law and to search for vehicle violations, such as not wearing seat belts or having open containers of alcohol in their cars.

Creighton said officers are enforcing laws equally and are not singling out gang members.

“What we are saying is that enforcement is equal across the board,” Creighton said. “I don’t care is a guy lives down there, is white and is in his 80s, we have a zero tolerance down there.”

Under the cruising ordinance, when traffic along the popular boulevard becomes congested, police can establish a checkpoint and keep tabs on specific vehicles. Once a vehicle passes the same point twice, police can warn the driver. On the third pass, police can cite the driver.

All the extra enforcement is welcomed by Mission Beach residents, according to Bill Kanmer, president of the Mission Beach Town Council. Sunday afternoons are still a time when residents stay at home, primarily because of the traffic congestion, Kanmer said. He credits the Police Department with keeping violence at bay.

That is important, he said, because “you can imagine the public relations fiasco if tourists found out that we had gang shootings and gang rumbles in Mission Beach on Sunday afternoons.”
[Illustration]
2 PICS; Caption: 1,2. JOHN NELSON / Union-Tribune

Credit: STAFF WRITER

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