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Local Currents

Laguna Beach

David Vanderveen

Getting Along

 

“Can’t we all just get along?” Rodney King.

 

A law-abiding, tax-paying citizen relayed his frustration to me about a junior officer who exercised his positional leadership with the Laguna Beach Police Department ahead of all decent common sense last weekend.

 

It’s hard for me to grasp why someone walking out of the show “Lagunatics” would be forced to sit on a curb for 30 minutes for jaywalking. My friend is over 50, can’t hear well, and certainly can’t hear the squawking of a police officer, who would rather sit in his car and bark orders than engage the public. I don’t understand how embarrassing good citizens benefits our community.

 

The local police officer probably thought it made a lot of sense to make a well-known Laguna Beach citizen sit on the curb for a street-crossing infraction in front of friends, family and others who were downtown to attend a popular community theater event. I have to think that even Barney Fife would understand how small towns work better than that.

 

In the immortal words of Rodney King, “Can’t we all get along?”

 

I have at few friends who work for the Laguna Beach Police Department, but the number of those who live in town diminishes every year. No one knows each other anymore. It seems like the officers who do live here have a radically different level of respect for local citizens than those who don’t.

 

There isn’t enough space in this column to list all of my negative experiences with parking enforcement officers, but a few of the lowlights include being threatened with a moving violation while trying to park, and being screamed at for picking up elderly friends in a “no parking” zone. If it wasn’t so personal, it would be funny.

 

A good friend of mine is a global expert in law enforcement. Bert Wijbenga, formerly the deputy chief of police of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, is the current police chief of Flevoland, with roughly the same number of sworn officers in his unit for a province of 329,000 people as the 10,000-strong Los Angeles Police Department, which serves 3.8 million people. European countries do not organize police forces on such a small scale as a small town the way we do in the U.S. Laguna Beach has 47 sworn officers.

 

Wijbenga has a PhD in political science and an executive MBA in police administration. I’ll paraphrase his perspective on small-town police in America: They don’t have the resources to train their staff properly.

 

I had asked Bert why Laguna seems to have had some significant shortcomings in terms of law enforcement: We couldn’t stop a rash of bank robberies, but could shoot up neighborhoods with police bullets (45 rounds within 15 feet missed the bank robber but did manage to hit the local gym, security guard’s car and a bystander); but a local officer could (and did) block in and issue a ticket to my wife, who had stopped to pick up our children at the Brooks Street stairs, and was loading their gear in the car. What is, and isn’t, going on here?

 

What Bert told me is that, in the Netherlands, police spend roughly four years training before working on the streets. Much of their training is in learning to engage people socially to get the desired result. It’s not about positional leadership—“I’m a cop with gun.” It’s about respecting the people in your local community, educating them about local laws and persuading them to cooperate. He said that if they have to go to their gun, they’ve failed.

 

Two summers ago my wife, boys and extended family were on a tour of the Netherlands during the FIFA World Cup. The Dutch were doing very well and there were late nights with raucous celebrating and what seemed like the entire country in the streets. The police weren’t angry. They weren’t sitting in their cars barking incomprehensible orders at civilian subordinates. They were laughing with partiers, celebrating the success of Dutch soccer and helping people keep the law as they made their way home.

 

We need local police and citizens to respect each other better. Maybe there is an opportunity to partner with a Dutch sister city and develop some new local rules of engagement.

 

David Vanderveen is a Laguna Beach resident, husband, father and energy drink entrepreneur. His email is [email protected].

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About the Author

Comments (6)

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  1. Kevin says:

    Hi David,
    You are complaining about the police. I’m surprised that your
    letter got published. I’m also surprised that you wanted your picture
    printed and included your email address. You must like controversy
    more than me (or even the average person). Complaining about police
    behavior is so common. Aren’t most people ready to retaliate when a
    police officer wants to talk to them? I remember recently hearing a
    lady cussing about getting a parking ticket. She was calling the
    police/ticket-giver a jerk and then some. I think it’s her fault, not
    the officers. Her time was up.
    I have had my share of problems with the law. And I have
    complained and kicked and screamed and bitched and criticized cops
    from Laguna Beach to San Francisco. Most of the time it does not do
    any good. It usually causes more problems. The best thing to do is
    obey the law. I think most laws are created and enforced for safety.
    Safety is one word that you did not mention in your article.
    I will bet you that most people do not even know what jaywalking
    is. I grew up in Southern Orange County and I live in Laguna Beach.
    Most days of the week I have a view of one of the busiest
    intersections in Laguna Beach. I can see traffic, stupidity and unsafe
    behavior all day long. I hear horns honking and sirens scream most of
    the day. The corner is a 4-way intersection with traffic lights on
    all corners and 3 crosswalks, not four. One side does not have a
    crosswalk. A crosswalk is obvious to me, it usually has white lines
    creating a “safe” section to walk in. Besides no crosswalk painted on
    the street there are signs that read “No Crossing” & “Use Crosswalk”.
    There is a reason that there is no crosswalk on this side of the
    street. Nonetheless, I have seen fit, fast folks, Fat, slow folks,
    families with children and babies in strollers and old folks cross
    there a million times. Did you know that when you walk to a corner
    with a light and pedestrian crossing that you are supposed to push the
    button and wait for the Walking Man that is green before you cross?
    Instead of the Red Hand? I have seen officers enforce this.
    I think that when a pedestrian is in the street, they are unsafe.
    I think that when a pedestrian is in the street they are responsible
    for their own safety. I believe that if you trust a car you are
    foolish (I can offer you one of my T-shirts that I had made and wear
    that reads “Never Trust A Car”). I have often proclaimed that if a
    person is in the street and they are hit by a car they are often to
    blame, not just the car.
    I appreciate your article but I also think you bring up things that
    have nothing to do with safety and the law. For example – the persons
    age, citizenship and being well known. Do you think that Mexicans
    that drive into town every day to keep Laguna Beach fixed and
    manicured should get pulled over more than Laguna Beach Citizens? I
    don’t, but they do.
    A 50 year old man or woman is not relative to this scenario you
    have described (except they should know better) and poor hearing is
    not relative (except it makes it even more unsafe for them to be in
    the street). I have 5 words for this person and every person: STAY
    OUT OF THE STREET – my parents must have told me that 1,000 times.

  2. David Vanderveen says:

    Thanks for your letter, Kevin. My column runs bi-weekly. Like all columns in the Laguna Beach Independent, it includes my photo, byline and a description of the author at the end.

    I do think descriptors are important, particularly someone who is a significant contributing citizen in our community. There simply isn’t a good reason for a police officer to make a citizen in good-standing sit on the curb for 30 minutes for jaywalking–it’s absurd.

    David

  3. Don Smith says:

    The fact that you quote Rodney King says it all. Rodney was a drug addict that decided he was so special that he did not need to follow the rules that everyone else follows. He endangered the lives of everyone on the freeway by driving like a maniac. Maybey if he took his own advice and didn’t act like a sociopathic fool, he would not have gotten the beating that he definitely deserved for endagering the public like that. Rodney has already used all the money from the lawsuit on drugs and alcohol and is back in jail. What a shocker.

    After reading your rambling article, I can tell that like Rodney, you think you are special and do not need to follow the rules that the rest of us follow. You think because you are “well known” you do not need to be bothered by petty things such as crosswalks. Wasn’t a pedestrian recently struck on Laguna Canyon and severly injured? I’m glad it wasn’t you or your family.

    I’m guessing you sat and argued with the officer, prolonging your detention to 30 minutes, which is a prettly long time for a citation. Continue behavior like that and I am sure you will be “well known” in the court house too. I learned as a child that arguing with a police officer is never a smart idea. It is always best to say sorry and move on. In doing that, I have avoided many tickets that I definitely deserved.

    Please type in “police brutality Netherlands” into Google and see what comes up. I just looked and apparently the four years of preparing are not enough for them.

    This is the most one sided article I have ever seen. I would love to hear the officer’s side of the story. Maybey you can ask him to comment on here if you are truely unbiased.

    As far as I’m concerned, the cops in this town are doing a great job and need to keep up the good work. Thank you for risking your lives to keep my family safe.

  4. Just Curious says:

    Assuming you are an objective writter, I’m guessing you spoke to the police officer too? There are, after all, always two sides to a story. So I’m curious what his explanation was? After all, you make a lot of assumptions as to what the officer was thinking in your article, so you must have spoken with him and learned what kind of person he is.

    I agree with Kevin, jaywalking, is a safety issue, not a status in the community issue. Do you know how many people are fataly or seriously injured in Laguna Beach from jaywalking? It sounds like your friend broke the law and is just upset he was held accountable for his actions.

    So I leave you with one question: should everyone in Laguna Beach get a break from receiving jaywalking tickets, or just those who are residents?

  5. David Vanderveen says:

    My point was simple: if an officer wants to write a ticket for jaywalking, they have that right. It’s a minor misdemeanor and should not require detaining someone for a lengthy period of time. Humiliating a well-known resident (not me) in front of a large community event makes the police look foolish, which most people seem to agree with in town. It’s unnecessary and unprofessional. Better trained police departments don’t behave that way as Bert Wijbenga points out. I think we need to provide better training and more officers so our officers behave like ambassadors for the town.

  6. lagoona says:

    Why would it be of any consequence what “standing”in the community the jaywalker has? Would it be ok to humiliate someone who was not up to snuff in your social register?

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