West End residents gathered with Long Beach police to discuss an array of issues, many which have long plagued the bar-studded neighborhood, at the beach entrance at Maryland Avenue on Monday.
Commissioner Michael Tangney met with about 50 concerned residents for an informal meeting, coordinated by the West End Neighbors Civic Association (WENCA), updating them on measures the department is taking to step up enforcement in their neighborhood. For about 75 minutes, he fielded their many questions on issues that ranged from bicycling on sidewalks to drinking on the beach to urinating in public.
Initially, many questions revolved around the duties of beach ticket takers and “specials,” the blue-shirted officers tasked with enforcing beach and boardwalk rules and codes, to prevent beach-goers from freely walking onto the beach without showing them a pass.
“They sit there and a group of people walk by them continually and they can’t do anything,” said an Arizona Street resident about the ticket takers, who questioned why they aren’t equipped with walkie-talkies. Others asked why specials aren’t stationed at each ticket booth.
Tangney explained that the number of specials had declined to 25, with only 12 working from Monday to Thursday to cover 40 beach entrances. “They cut 10 specials out of the budget this year,” he said.
WENCA President Rick Hoffman called the system “broken” that is costing the cash-strapped city in needed revenue. “We are in economic hard times and we have thousands of dollars sitting on that beach for free all summer long,” Hoffman told Tangney.
Hoffman also inquired about foot patrol officers that he said an officer assigned to the West End told him would be available to patrol the West End on foot.
“[Sgt. Philip] Rigona told us that the big change this year was going to be six plain clothes guys on foot, and we haven’t seen anybody,” said Hoffman, who noted that their presence was particularly needed between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. on nights when the bars are packed with patrons.
Tangney said he never committed to a foot patrol. “I’m sorry he said that,” Tangney said. “But I’m the police commissioner and I know what my orders are.”
The commissioner’s concern is that foot patrol officers can only cover a very limited area. But Hoffman maintained that they are necessary through the summer. “That would curtail a lot of our ongoing quality-of-life problems,” he said.
Tangney opened Monday’s meeting with an overview of recent police activity in the West End, citing statistics on arrests and summonses for various offenses. “We are addressing things,” he told the crowd. “… But we’re down 10 guys due to budget cuts, so now I need your help.”
He explained various laws and ordinances surrounding many issues residents were concerned about, including requirements for speed humps and noise levels. About the latter, he said bars are mandated to close their windows and remove all outdoor tables after 10 p.m. “So that abates some of the noise,” he said.
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While the discussion turned to public drinking and drunkenness, he said that with children under the age of 16 who are drunk, their parents are required to pick them up, whereas in the past police used to take them home. “If they don’t come get them, we take them to the hospital,” he said.
Tangney also addressed many traffic-related questions, from speeding to non-observance of stop signs. Residents suggested everything from marking visible lines at intersections with stop signs to using radar guns on West Beech Street. A resident who lives at the corner of Minnesota Avenue and Oceanview estimated that up to 40 motorists blow by stop signs at that intersection each weekend.
“We had a guy going about 65 down to the beach the other night at 9:30,” he said. “Somebody is going to get killed. And if it’s happening on my corner, it’s happening everywhere else.”
Tangney had announced earlier a greater police presence at Oceanview.
Both Tangney and Hoffman encouraged residents not to hesitate to call the police department to report incidents, which prompted some residents to complain about the curt attitudes of certain dispatchers. “When we call there, it’s almost as if you’re interrupting their business,” said one man, whose comment received some applauds.
Some residents, including members of WENCA, viewed the meeting as an encouraging sign.
“We have a lot of responsibility to bring forth the kind of community that we want,” Hoffman told his fellow West End residents. “These guys can help us get there. Hopefully it’s this kind of dialogue that makes it happen.”