Community Members Jam OBTC Meeting and Voice Impatience at Lack of Progress by Police
Wednesday night at 7PM, the OB Town Council held their monthly public meeting, as a crowd of more than 100 Ocean Beach residents filled Masonic hall to express anger over a growing perception serious and violent sexual crimes are increasing in OB.
While the actual number of reported incidents remains low, a strong showing by residents, and several television camera crews from local media stations, were met with serious concern from San Diego police, as officers and residents reported on both known and unreported incidents.
Police Community Relations Officer David Surwilo addressed the meeting by introducing Lt. Natalie Stone as our newest Service Area Lieutenant, saying she has been assigned to SDPD’s Western Division. Lt. Stone is a new point of contact for OBceans who are interested in better understanding and resolving crimes in Ocean Beach. OBceans can contact Lt. Natalie Stone directly at her office, dialing 619-692-4804, or they may contact Surwilo or Stone through the main number at 619-692-4800.
With a few weeks in her new role, Lt. Stone confirmed only three reports have been registered and remain active investigations, specifically the shocking report by a “groping” victim on August 15th along the bike path near Robb Field, and the assault against a woman on August 25th at approximately 2:10 am on Muir Avenue and Cable Street.
A third investigation continues to search for clues and the culprit behind the most recent report of a peeping tom, and Lt. Stone indicated this is their hottest investigation taking place in the area. This incident, reported on September 7, occurred on Saratoga Avenue in the vicinity of Sacred Heart Academy, a K – 8 School for children.
Lt. Stone asked OBceans to join the investigative effort to help identify the peeper, reminding attendees the incidents may or may not have been carried out by a single culprit. Without additional information or formal reports, it is difficult to ascertain the source of risk to community without evidence.
A few loud cries from the audience went out against transient populations. Lt. Stone countered, describing another popular incident which misled the public into believing a homeless person had been committing thefts in another area, and where strong public suspicion proved untrue and misleading. She focused her comments by revealing how criminal patterns may be used to understand the true nature of crime which too often remains overlooked by casual or emotional observers.
As an example, Lt. Stone announced her own research into OB crime shows a rise in peeping cases which may have begun last May and June, then stopped, prior to the events reported recently. Her comments were directed at OBceans and others who may recognize and report potential suspects, suggesting the assailant might be someone who may have gone away on vacation or was out of town during the intervening periods.
Clearly, the SDPD is asking our assistance to obtain information to help identify suspected criminals and stalkers, like the Saratoga peeper.
The fact that seven peeping tom cases have been recently reported to police is alarming, outweighed by the fact only one incident produced a witness and a good description, as reported for the Sept 7 incident. Based on evidence and individual testimonies, police believe more than one perpetrator may be responsible for these seven reports. One commonality, police went on to confirm the events took place at night, typically between 9pm and 4am.
Crime on the rise?
Both Lt. Stone and Officer Surwilo answered questions and provided details regarding the three active investigations. During public questioning, several other attacks were discussed which were categorized as either old or unrelated incidents. Except for the three investigations, the other claims have gone unreported or lack enough information to open a formal investigation.
For example, bar crimes are rumored to be increasing, and one woman OBcean present expressed serious and deep concerns regarding her two woman friends who believe they were recently drugged at an OB bar. According to her statements during the OBTC meeting, two woman friends claimed they had been visiting a nearby bar, and awoke the next morning in familiar surroundings but unaware of what had happened or even if anything did happen during the night. Both women woke in a state of confusion and serious alarm over their personal well being, unable to recount events from the night before.
The implication was both women had been drugged and raped while they remained unconscious. It was unclear if police had registered any official complaints concerning these claims, however both women reportedly went to hospital and submitted themselves to rape kit testing. No additional details were provided regarding the two women, results of any testing is unknown, nor was the actual bar location disclosed where these events are reported to have taken place.
While such a scenario is horrible to imagine, the strength of the testimony, and the crowd’s attendance during the opening portions of the OBTC meeting suggests OB is very alert to unreported crimes and other criminal activities, yet the village continues to keep quiet about its darkest secrets.
Of many complaints being voiced during OBTC, the peeping tom incident, the assault on Muir, and the drugging of two women at a local bar seemed to be of primary concern, not to diminish other public statements or ongoing investigations.
Investigations into the peeping tom
Obviously, not all crimes are reported to police, a fact which we all seem to know and accept but which only undermines public and police efforts to identify and catch criminals, as the recent peeping tom incident may have demonstrated. As we reported, on Monday, 9/17, around 10:30 am one startled parent discovered physical evidence of a peeping tom directly underneath their daughter’s bedroom window.
One strong possibility to consider from the night before stems from the fact a neighbor had witnessed a man peeping into their own window around 9:30 pm, but the victim chose not to warn neighbors, and they failed to report the incident in a timely manner. Given the schedule of events as they unfolded, coupled with the street-level investigation and door-to-door tactics police are now using to locate the perpetrator, it seems a real possibility police believe the peeper could have been caught in the act, if the initial incident had been reported the night before. Lt. Stone confirmed this assertion during a recent follow-up to the OBTC meeting.
DNA evidence collected for peeping tom incident
In the mean time, Police collected DNA evidence from the scene on Monday 9/17, including an unspecified type and amount of material which they believe will further their investigation. Though investigators are applying internal pressure to expedite DNA lab testing, their final analysis could take weeks before test results are available.
Lt. Stone cautioned residents against over-emphasizing this part of the investigation, and she reminded all in attendance how actual science behind crime fighting is not accurately portrayed on television shows where crime scene investigation makes such popular drama.
As presented during the OBTC meeting by each of the officers, next to crime prevention as a tool for thwarting criminal activity, more effective crime fighting takes place only when concerned citizens and on-scene witnesses provide valuable information or evidence upon notifying police and filing a report, as when people directly observe crime or identify suspicious activity.
According to Officer Surwilo, police are actively investigating OB neighborhoods, as officers are searching for the peeper on foot and on bicycle. Uniformed and plain clothes officers are driving the streets and walking the alleyways, looking for suspicious activities in the dark corners and hidden alcoves, between homes and building complexes, as they remain most hopeful of catching the peeping tom in the act.
Calls for assistance
Few facts are available to aid these criminal investigations, and catching the peeper in the act is one clear way to correctly identify the culprit and gain a conviction. In this case, police are looking into the possibility the victims may have known the peeping tom. Officer Surwilo suggested how a peeper could evade public notice or police capture simply by returning to his own home, nearby.
Strong show of community support for grass roots
Additional police statements suggesting OBceans should close their windows at night for safety were met with some disdain, and many residents are justified in their belief that law abiding citizens shouldn’t be the ones forced to live in fear, rather the criminals should be made more fearful of getting caught.
Such statements are obvious but more than a few OBceans attending the OBTC meeting felt more should be done. As several woman stood and voiced their anger and frustration, many agreed that Ocean Beach will not lay down when our freedom is threatened! The most applause during the meeting showed support for the brother of the August 25th victim, when he explained how mainstream news agencies and police berated him for posting flyers offering a $5000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of his sisters’ attacker.
Not convinced the investigation was advancing towards an arrest or conviction, the brother of the assault victim publicly restated his intent and continued efforts to apprehend the culprit. To the applause, the brother said he remains committed to identifying the unknown assailant who violently attacked his sister as she walked home from a late night party.
Officer Surwilo and Lt. Stone restated the importance of communication between concerned citizens and SDPD, and Lt. Stone stated she is available to respond to public concerns.
Crime Watch Web Page
As another concerned female addressed the gathering, and with obvious pain over struggling to resolve a crime committed against her, several voices echoed the need for an Ocean Beach Crime Watch web page to aid citizens. A general call went out for improving communications regarding recent police reports, as well as unreported incidents among citizens, and whenever crime occurs within our own borders.
Fighting back tears, the young woman went on the offensive and demanded police keep the community better informed, stating how the peeping incident was not properly communicated to nearby businesses and residents. She described the lack of communication, and how other nearby organizations were not alerted, even though these locations are where children attend school or are known to be gathering, nearby.
As though prepared for this request, Officer Surwilo immediately offered to help an organized community effort to expand public communications if OBceans were to act upon their own demand for creating a new web page or similar online Crime Watch billboard. Surwilo demonstrated his willingness to directly aid our efforts to report and solve crimes, especially to assist those who want to create a Crime Watch web presence for improving public communications and promoting fact-finding efforts.
It was unclear if anyone actually accepted Surwilo’s offer, as most of the crowd dispersed soon after he stated his intentions and his presentation was concluded.
Here is the San Diego Reader’s version of the meeting by Mercy Baron.