Looks like the LAPD is sending in the troops following at least three weekends of violence on and near the beach in Venice, including a stabbing last weekend and a shooting the weekend before that.
Pacific Division leaders have requested the help of the department's elite Metropolitan Division, home of the original SWAT team. That request was granted, says Pacific Capt. Jon F. Peters.
He tells the Weekly:
We have some additional resources coming from Metro Division that will supplement our resources at the beach. We'll have a more visible presence on Ocean Front Walk.
Tourists, visitors and beach-goers will “be safe and feel safe,” Peters promised.
On Sunday just before sunset, when police traditionally clear out the weekly drum circle, a young man was stabbed and subsequently hospitalized in stable condition.
The Sunday before that marked at least a second week of fighting in the drum circle. And the previous Saturday a young man was critically wounded in a shooting near 17th Avenue and Ocean Front Walk.
That attack followed a basketball-court gathering that was “a coordinated event of gangs from outside the area coming here through social networking,” Peters said.
“It's not something we see everyday.”
While the captain declined to call it a gang-related shooting per se, he did say “we're handling that as a gang crime and we believe there are some gang implications to it.”
Meanwhile, the drum circle's criminal element is a whole different matter, fueled, police say, by an influx of young, aggressive homeless people to the area.
Peters says some of those folks come from the Pacific Northwest and sometimes pray on the “local” older homeless.
“A lot of these younger folks are form the Pacific Northwest and would pass through on their way to San Diego and beyond,” he said. “In the last year or two they've stayed. They're living this way by choice. And they do cause a lot problems for us.”
Are they attracted by the preponderance of pot shops in Venice?
“I do think that's part of the attraction, yes,” Peters said.
For now police are limited in what they can do to control the Sunday drum circle, which starts in the mid-afternoon under a pagoda and moves to the sand north of Windward Avenue as it gathers steam.
Venice activist and street musician Zuma Dogg says “I don't think they'll be able to ban the drum circle. It's a constitutional gathering of free speech, which the [California] Coastal Commission has said you can't touch.”
Participants, who have been doing this since the 1990s, as far as we can remember, have a First Amendment right to gather and express themselves, although police have traditionally cleared them out at sunset.
In past years the crowds have been peace-loving, tie-dyed, dread-lock types. Peters:
There's kind of a different group of folks, a fringe group, attaching themselves to this event — some of them with a criminal intent. Those are the folks we're concerned about and we'll be stepping up our enforcement efforts in dealing with them.
The City Attorney's office is also exploring ways ordinances can be enforced against the circle or rowdy participants, he says.
For now, the captain says, police will aggressively enforce the law against those with open containers of alcohol, beach-goers who are drunk in public, and folks who are doing drugs.
Zuma Dogg says he wishes cops would stop their “broken windows” policing along the boardwalk — where, he says, any little violation gets written up in hopes of drawing a hard line against crime — in favor of cracking down on serious criminals.
This month while I was performing and leaving I was surrounded by about five LAPD officers hassling me. Hassling Zuma Dogg for singing 'Don't Stop Believing.'
Sending undercover cops to bust an incense seller. That's a lot of LAPD time and resources. Meanwhile someone's getting stabbed at the drum circle.
And summer hasn't even begun.
“The good thing is a lot of the stuff we've seen occurring has brought focus and attention to the issue, and I think we're in a good position to turn things around now,” Peters says. “We can turn this tide.”
(We have a call into local Councilman Bill Rosendahl's office to see if there was any response planned on his end).
Added: A representative of Rosendahl told us there were no immediate plans for a community meeting or any other moves out of his office in response to the violence.