By Cassandra Reinhart, Special to the Independent
An increased police presence in and around South Laguna beaches this summer resulted in fewer complaints and more criminal citations and enforcement, according to Laguna’s top cop.
And some residents who’ve felt the impact of the area’s new-found popularity on social media generally agree that aggravations this past summer abated somewhat.
Police Chief Laura Farinella has compiled police arrests, citations and foot patrol-reported incidents on South Laguna Beaches from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Non-parking citations rose five fold to 1,107 this summer compared to just 178 citations issued in 2015. Farinella said the highest-cited beach violations are for alcohol or glass on the beach.
The reports show there were 599 foot-patrol incidents over the summer of 2017, which are police-initiated calls responding to observed concerns or unlawful behavior. That’s a marked increase over 2015’s 122. Total arrests were up 93% to 77 this past summer from 40 in 2015. Farinella reported the figures to the South Laguna Civic Association on Aug. 14.
“Officer-initiated activity is skyrocketing; everything is up huge amounts. That tells me we are there, we mitigate the issues before they happen,” she said.
Calls for service also rose on each of South Laguna’s beaches to 344 at Aliso Beach from 220 in 2015. Calls to Thousand Steps also increased to 145 in 2017 from 50 in 2015.
Farinella says that doesn’t necessarily mean more crime is occurring, just that more eyes are watching and there is a heightened community consciousness of beach rules and acceptable behavior. Both are good, she says.
“We have increased how we have responded to South Laguna; to me that’s a positive, not a negative,” Farinella said.
In response to complaints from South Laguna residents about visitors’ trash, drinking, noise, bonfires, and parking, Laguna Beach police upped their presence on South Laguna beaches beginning with the Memorial Day weekend.
Two full-time beach patrol officers were added as a result of the city’s passage of Measure LL, and are specifically assigned to patrolling only South Laguna beaches. They join two full-time beach patrol officers and four part-time officers who are rotated between all beaches as needed. Although beach patrol officers are not arresting officers, they can call sworn officers to do so if needed. Beach patrol officers can issue tickets and citations.
OC Parks also hired a security company to patrol the county beaches, such as Aliso Beach from 7 p.m. to midnight, seven days a week. On beaches with gates that lock at 10 p.m., they watch for illegal after-hour partying and bonfires.
“Now they are all working together,” Farinella said. “There are boots on the ground on the beach. It’s been huge, the mere presence of them down there.”
Dillon Gaboury has lived a few houses from the Thousand Steps entrance at 32009 Coast Highway for the past three years. This summer he says he saw a difference.
“You definitely don’t see a lot of things we saw before; the crime, fires on the beach, stuff like that,” Gadboury said of the increased police presence. “I think they need to keep doing what they are doing.”
Brian Steincke, who lives on Eagle Rock Way, says he still noticed a lot of trash and litter on his street this summer. But he says overall, he did notice a difference, especially in police response time to his neighborhood for calls of parking violations or crimes.
“I felt this year was better than last year,” Steincke said. “I just think they have to keep on track, continue to show their presence on the South Laguna beaches.”
Farinella also credits this year’s passage of the drone ordinance, which prohibits drones on beaches or public parks, with helping make South Laguna residents feel less invaded. Farinella says she plans to continue meeting with South Laguna residents to assure their voice is being heard.
“Sometimes you don’t realize as a city how bad things might be for parts of your community until you meet with them and have this dialogue and come up with a plan together,” Farinella sad.