Lifeguards outline their plans for the Fourth
by BLAKE JONES
Jun 29, 2006 | 793 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In preparation for the largest beach celebration of the year, Mayor Jerry Sanders recently announced plans for police and park staffing along San Diego's most popular beaches and bays for Independence Day. Some of the measures will extend throughout the summer.

Though the fiscal year 2007 budget that takes effect July 1 did not increase funding for the tasks at hand, the city said that the summer enforcement plan will keep recreation hot spots clean, safe and accessible.

Fourth of July

July 4 is the biggest challenge for lifeguards and beach police, as millions of residents and tourists swarm Mission Beach, Pacific Beach and Mission Bay Park.

Sanders said lifeguards expect this year's crowd to reach 1.4 million from Saturday, July 1 through Tuesday, July 4, with 700,000 expected on local beaches on the July 4 alone.

Lifeguard Lt. Nick Lerma said a larger crowd is expected because the water is warmer, the waves bigger and the skies sunnier than the 2005 holiday.

"We're spending a lot of time right now making sure that everybody is ready, but we've already been initiated," Lerma said of Memorial Day weekend, which was the busiest on record with 631,000 visitors and 294 rescues.

Officials are anticipating a four-day weekend as the Fourth falls on a Tuesday, extending the problems posed by excessive drinking. The combination of alcohol and swimming unnerves guards because drunk victims do not last as long in a rescue situation, Lerma said.

"They don't give us the opportunity to get there in time."

In preparation for such occurrences, beach staffing on the sand will increase appreciably over the holiday weekend with two or three guards at most seasonal towers.

On the water, personal watercraft will be used to jet between waves and rip currents for quick response and the entire fleet of rescue boats will be deployed with up to 10 guards aboard each. Two boats will patrol the ocean and four to six vessels will cover the bay, said Lt. John Everhart.

In the air, two guards trained in underwater searches and dive rescues will accompany Fire-Rescue Department Copter 1 to respond to emergencies throughout the city.

"They're basically superheroes," Lerma said of the helicopter crew.

In an on-going effort to integrate department efforts, lifeguard and police supervisors recently met to discuss transportation, enforcement and radio communication issues. A second meeting is tentatively scheduled prior to the holiday.

Lerma said the synergy began with the Fourth of July plan a few years back, but has improved with each summer. He added that increased police presence takes pressure off of guards so they can concentrate on water safety.

"[Lifeguards] sit up in these commanding views on the seasonal towers on the beach," Lerma said. "Whenever people have any type of problem, they normally in the absence of a police officer will contact a lifeguard."

The Summer

Heightened police patrol of the coastal areas will continue throughout summer on a smaller scale.

A sizable number of officers and lifeguards will remain in place through Labor Day, though there has been no staffing increase from last year, said George Biagi, deputy press secretary for the mayor.

Receiving the most attention will be Pacific Beach, Mission Beach and Ocean Beach due to the large volume of visitors to those areas, as well as a higher incidence of gang-related activity.

Full-time beach teams in Mission Beach, Pacific Beach and Belmont Park will focus on enforcing misdemeanor offenses, such as open container, minors in possession of alcohol, illegal lodging, vandalism and lewd acts. The visible police presence is intended to discourage crime before it happens, said Sanders' office.

Traffic officers will assist the beach team and handle traffic concerns, while Special Event Traffic Controllers will calm entry and exit to the area between Belmont Park and the jetty every Sunday from 1:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Mission Bay Park will also receive its share of police attention with the Harbor Unit patrolling parklands and waterways seven days a week from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. Rangers will handle daytime illegal lodging and parking, litter and police assistance matters within the park.

In Ocean Beach, officers will increase presence on Newport Avenue and walking patrol teams on the boardwalk to monitor alcohol offenses. Bar checks will continue as a means of reducing violent crime.

For busy holidays, a traffic grant will fund two days of overtime pay specifically for beach area traffic enforcement in Ocean Beach.

Police also plan to combat increased gang activity during the summer months. Parole sweeps, gang unit beach monitoring and gang injunctions are part of the enforcement tactics.
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