UPDATE: At 5 pm Wednesday, the Dodgers responded to widespread criticism and cancelled their half-price beer sale.
Dodger Stadium is plagued by security lapses that have gone unaddressed for years even as gang members, thugs and drunk, rowdy patrons learned to exploit the breaches, emboldened because they knew serious repercussions were unlikely, say two Los Angeles Police Department sources with extensive knowledge of the situation.
Dodgers owner Frank McCourt failed to deal with a pre-existing situation that has significantly worsened under his watch, inside and surrounding Dodger Stadium, until the horrifying March 31 Opening Day assault by two men upon San Francisco Giants fan Bryan Stow in a parking lot. The 42-year-old emergency medical technician was gravely injured and remains in a medically induced coma.
Over the last five or six years under McCourt's ownership, the LAPD sources say, cheap ticket prices promoted in some sections, including outfield pavilions, helped add to the number of thugs and gang members. It wasn't long before the 18th Street Gang and others became a more prominent presence, operating with the knowledge that a typical penalty for bad behavior was merely “getting kicked out,” one of the LAPD sources says.
“We got the gang elements in five or six years ago, when the McCourts had the [cheaper] admissions and lowered prices in the pavilion. It started getting crappy … the gangsters knew not [many] arrests were being made, and that they'd just get ejected,” the LAPD source says.
Now, McCourt is reacting — and the two LAPD insiders say it's too little, too late.
The April 14 home game against the St. Louis Cardinals will follow a security plan forced upon the Dodgers by public outcry and Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck.
McCourt abruptly abandoned his long-standing policy against letting armed police provide the bulk of the security inside the stadium. But the two LAPD sources say McCourt's failure to bring anti-gang LAPD specialty officers into the ballpark compounds the problems. It remains unclear whether Beck and McCourt will include anti-gang officers in the mix.
Meanwhile, Dodger Stadium's upper deck, especially on Opening Day, is “like walking in a prison yard … there's a hard-core gang element,” says one of the sources, of troublemakers sporting gang garb, prison tats and angry attitudes. The two LAPD sources say that even the Dodgers' “L.A.” logo — in its familiar letterman's collegiate-style font — is an increasingly popular tattoo of choice among Latino gangbangers.
Fans and gang members often arrive at games drunk, the sources say, and are allowed by Dodger management to keep drinking in the stadium parking lots.
Once inside the stadium, alcohol-fueled patrons are peddled even more booze under McCourt's aggressive alcohol-marketing program. For example, concessionaires sell two 24-ounce beers at a time per customer, and hard liquor is sold.
An “all you can eat” menu, promoted at a stand accessible from the right field pavilion, is another marketing scheme abused by violent fans. Some use the piles of cheap food as projectiles against fans from rival teams, so security teams now pay special attention to that area.
Patrons who get kicked out for bad behavior find it easy to “sneak back in” at poorly monitored gates, the LAPD sources say, which encourages more trouble. “The parking lots and alcohol” are two festering problems underlying it all, as well as McCourt's use of a hodgepodge of suburban and other law enforcement agencies alongside LAPD, which can create coordination issues during emergencies.
Although McCourt has made a major flip-flop, agreeing to pay the cost of beefing up the number of uniformed LAPD officers inside the stadium, in recent days he also has defended the stadium's security measures and called the attack on Stow a “random act of violence.”
As of press time, McCourt's management team had failed to cancel a widely ridiculed new plan to encourage more heavy drinking — a two-for-one beer sale at some games. Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich is demanding that the beer promo be canceled to “restore the public trust.”
Dodgers spokesman Josh Rawitch tells the Weekly the half-price beer deal “remains under consideration” pending an evaluation by former LAPD Chief William Bratton, whom McCourt hired last week to improve safety at the stadium.
Currently, the LAPD sources say, the security force is composed mainly of Dodgers private personnel in blue shirts; off-duty, unarmed law enforcement officers in white polo shirts; and armed LAPD officers in uniform.
Before each game, off-duty officers in golf carts patrol the parking lots, while officers in uniform go to the turnstiles to help conduct screening, the sources say.
At nearby Elysian Park, a city park with lax security just down the road from the LAPD Academy, “Everyone gets plastered. … It's a free-for-all,” says one LAPD source. In the nearby Dodger Stadium parking lots, “There's no control. People park wherever they want to and [the officers] are running all around: 'Are you drinking, are you not drinking?' ”
The Dodgers' security program has faced turmoil since the departure of security chief Shahram L. Ariane, who now is offering his help as a consultant. Last December, the Dodgers fired his replacement, Ray Maytorena, a former Secret Service agent.
To baseball fans, who spoke with passion to the Weekly and lit up sports blogs with outraged comments, the sense of danger — especially in the cheaper seats — is Dodger Stadium's dirty secret.
At a press conference, McCourt didn't respond to a question about complaints over the deteriorating atmosphere. A request by the Weekly to interview McCourt was declined, and Rawitch did not respond to a series of security questions.
“Lawrence” is a Los Angeles singer who gave only his first name out of concern that gang members might retaliate against his family, including some of his relatives in law enforcement.
He's seen a dramatic spiral downward since Peter O'Malley owned the team — an era when he still felt “completely safe” wearing his Mets jersey and cap in the outfield pavilions, where fans can catch home-run balls. More recently, the heckling in his favorite area became intolerable, and security guards failed to shut it down, so he moved.
Lawrence says he can't understand why the Dodgers and LAPD didn't do more, sooner. The level of violence was obvious last summer when he walked to his car with a friend and heard shouts of “Go home! Go back to New York!” as a rock whizzed past his head.
Turning, he saw a knot of young men in gangbanger garb — big shorts, shaved heads and tattoos. When he reported the incident to the Dodgers, they had a ready response: They upgraded his tickets for the next day to seats behind home plate.
Lawrence says he went to the April 3 Giants-Dodgers game, but even with good, $35 seats he heard Dodger bullies threatening fans in San Francisco jerseys with “You're next, man!” When Lawrence confronted one over his insensitivity to the critically injured Stow, he cackled.
Matt Ferrucci, a Los Angeles actor and writer originally from San Francisco, who wears his Giants gear to games, says fans from rival teams know “a danger element” exists at Dodger Stadium that's unlike other stadiums around the country.
Ferrucci, who attended the April 3 Giants game at Dodger Stadium and saw the Dodgers play in San Diego on a recent Tuesday and Wednesday, says he was ribbed good-naturedly by a Padres fan “surfer dude” while in San Diego. “They razz you, but you never think they might crack a bottle over your head,” he says — unlike the dark vibe at Dodger Stadium.
At Dodger Stadium, Ferrucci got so tired of being verbally assaulted by skinheads in wifebeaters yelling at him to “jump off the bridge” or to “get the hell out of here” that he now only buys tickets on the first level, between first base and third base.
The vibe in the rest of the stadium seems more like the old Raiders football games at the Coliseum.
“It's a turf battle,” Ferrucci says. “I think they are harassing just to harass.”
Jeffrey Roberts, a Giants fan and entertainment administrative assistant in L.A., says the stadium has become a “war zone,” and that recently, when a Dodger staffer arranged for his tickets, the staffer advised him not to wear his Giants apparel.
“It's thuggery,” says Roberts of what is unfolding inside Dodger Stadium. “It's an expression of power.”