The sun and sand patrol | Officers work beach under public’s gaze

August 8, 2001 No Comments

Mark Arner. The San Diego Union – Tribune. San Diego, Calif.: Aug 8, 2001. pg. B.1

His beat is the sand at Mission and Pacific beaches, ground zero for one of the more contentious debates in San Diego: whether alcohol should be banned at these favorite tourist spots 24 hours a day.

But the way San Diego police Officer Marco Perez figures it, work doesn’t get much better than this.

Perez, 35, is one of 21 officers assigned to patrol the two beaches during the summer. “I do for 10 hours a day,” he says, “what people spend thousands of dollars to do on their vacation.”

Perez and the other beach cops on this beat deal with their share of alcoholics and drunks. But most of their time is spent answering questions for tourists, keeping an eye out for drug dealing and writing parking tickets. At night, much of their time is spent asking the rowdy to keep it down.

Clad in shorts, short-sleeved shirts, bike shoes and helmets, Perez and his partner, Officer Jason Weeden, cruise the beach and boardwalk on all-terrain vehicles and mountain bikes.

They write some alcohol-related citations. It remains illegal to drink on the beach from 8 p.m. to noon, and alcohol cannot be consumed at any time on the boardwalk or sea wall or in parking lots.

On a typical Saturday or Sunday, Pacific Beach and Mission Beach attract as many as 70,000 people, says Lt. Brant Bass, head of the city’s lifeguards.

The job has its bad days.

On a recent Sunday, Perez recalled, a 19-year-old Camp Pendleton Marine took a dare and jumped from a Mission Beach sea wall onto Perez’s back as the officer rode his BMW bike on the boardwalk. Perez didn’t know what hit him. He was able to subdue and arrest the Marine, but Perez suffered minor cuts and bruises.

The attack illustrates that being more accessible to the public does have its dangers.

“You’re also more aware of your surroundings,” said Weeden, 26.

Most beachgoers treat the officers with respect, police say, flagging them down to ask questions about everything from city statutes regulating alcohol on the beach to skateboarding on the boardwalk.

It is not unusual these days for those visiting the beach to ask officers their thoughts on the proposed ban.

The City Council approved the alcohol ban in April. It would have covered the area from the south jetty in Mission Beach to Felspar Street in Pacific Beach, just north of Crystal Pier, and was to take effect June 1 for an 18-month trial.

It was never enforced. Opponents gathered enough petition signatures to suspend the ordinance. After the City Clerk’s Office verified the signatures of 51,729 voters, the council put the measure on the March ballot.

On a recent busy Sunday, officers Kenneth Rawls and Isabel Maldonado issued 15 citations to people hanging out on the boardwalk, mostly for drinking alcohol on the 3-foot-high concrete sea wall or having glass containers on the beach.

No one was happy about the tickets.

“You all got nothing to do except harass people for putting beer on the counter?” asked Kevin Childers, 21.

Nicole Powell, 25, didn’t fare much better. She was cited, too.

“I put my can of Sam Adams on the ledge and I was playing with an 8-year-old. I wasn’t even drinking it,” she said. “How criminal is this?”

Police may be sympathetic, but they have little choice. Officers have been ordered to have zero tolerance for alcohol-related offenses.

“We’re getting direction to enforce the laws,” said Sgt. Andra Brown. “We hear that from the town councils and at City Council meetings.”

Enforcing alcohol laws is just part of their job. Beach cops generally have far more interaction with the public than officers in cars. They “deal with gang members, with ex-convicts, with foreigners and families from Nebraska,” said Lt. Mike Cash, who oversees the beach patrol. “They have to be community oriented, and professional at all times. . . . They’re the cream of the crop.”

Beach residents say they love their neighborhood cops.

“I think the police are doing a good job,” said Don Mullen, 45, who is treasurer of the Pacific Beach Town Council.

But Mullen and Town Council President Richard Green, 64, say more cops are needed.

“When the traffic gets backed up, you couldn’t get police in here or emergency vehicles,” Mullen said. “All these things worry us.”

Maldonado said that despite the guff she has to deal with when handing out citations, she finds the job rewarding.

Officers prefer it over regular patrol because there is more of a team atmosphere. When patrolling in cars, officers can go hours without dealing with other cops. At the beach, officers team up, and see other teams frequently.

“It’s pretty frustrating when you get negative comments, but what makes it worth being here is the small amount of people who wave to you, and come up and say they appreciate your being here. It makes it all worth it.

“And those who were cited,” Maldonado added, “know that when we come around, they need to follow the rules.”
[Illustration]
2 PICS; Caption: 1. Officer Jason Weeden, patrolling in his all-terrain vehicle, checked the ID of a man drinking beeron Mission Beach just north of the Belmont Park roller coaster. He is one of 21 officers assigned to Mission and Pacific Beaches. 2. Officers Jason Weeden (left) and Marco Perez cruised Mission Beach in their all-terrain vehicles. They also use mountain bicycles. (B-3:1); Credit: 1,2. Jim Baird / Union-Tribune

Credit: STAFF WRITER

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