By Daniel Langhorne, Special to the Independent
The Laguna Beach Police Department will deploy additional beach patrol officers at Main Beach and Heisler Park and over the next six months thanks to the City Council’s dedication of $155,000 to step up enforcement of minor violations and continue engagement with the homeless.
Mayor Pro Tem Steve Dicterow and City Councilman Peter Blake proposed the infusion of transient occupancy tax dollars raised by Measure LL after hearing from Police Chief Laura Farinella that more crimes were reported in recent months at Main Beach.
“If we have a visible presence it deters bad behavior,” Dicterow said. “There are not just anecdotal but sociology experiments throughout the world that show when people are not being observed they act one way, and when they are being observed, they act another way.”
Farinella said she’s heard residents’ positive reviews of an information booth staffed by Laguna Beach police officers on weekends since it was first established in July. Officers stationed at the booth were able to help the public with concerns about lost children, thefts, fights, public intoxication, and smoking. Laguna Beach police will continue to man the canopy each weekend with the exception of those weekends anticipated to see fewer beach visitors because of rain.
Residents and visitors can expect to see extra beach patrol officers on foot or bikes from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., which is typically when the department receives the most calls for service. Farinella warned that she expects to see a spike in reported crimes as officers contact more individuals at Main Beach and Heisler Park, but this should plateau as the homeless population learns where they’ll be confronted by police.
The Police Department will review how successful the information booth and additional beach patrols are in reducing the number of resident complaints as the City Council creates its budget for the coming year.
As someone who has worked in downtown Laguna Beach since 1990, gallery owner Blake was recently elected to the City Council partly for his pledges to give the Police Department whatever it needs to confront bad behavior in public spaces.
“As long I feel unsafe, I will do everything that it takes to make sure we make the changes necessary so we feel safe, and I will back up our police officers all day long to make sure that that happens,” Blake said.
Besides the increased police presence, the Public Works Department trimmed the plants around Hotel Laguna that some homeless were using as shelter to sleep and store their belongings. Farinella said she was surprised to see six people sleeping in the foliage before the trimming.
The Marine Safety Department also plans to open an additional lifeguard tower on the south end of Main Beach near the playground. City staffers will also review opening a lifeguard tower on North Main Beach in the coming months if justified by criminal activity observed by police officers and lifeguards. Full-time lifeguards have the ability to write administrative fines to individuals who continuously break the law by smoking or drinking alcohol on the beach, but 95 percent of the time the public complies after they’re warned, said Kevin Snow, chief of marine safety.
Cpl. Jason Farris, one of Laguna Beach’s two community outreach officers, said having more eyes looking for bad behavior on Main Beach always helps complement the work that patrol officers do every day.
“I believe having that increased presence conditions people to break some of the rituals or habits they were used to conducting,” Farris said. “If I’m not there or my partner isn’t there, or someone else isn’t there to help them redirect themselves, they’re just going to continue on that path.”