Police Respond to “Open Letter” to Chief

by on February 9, 2010 · 22 comments

in Civil Rights, Culture, Ocean Beach, San Diego

Chief Lansdowne, I received a message very early yesterday morning from Boyd Long, Assistant Chief of Patrol Operations, and was not able to return his call until later that evening. I want to acknowledge his quick response to my prior email about disparate police responses in different communities. Chief Long was professional and courteous and we had a long, interesting conversation on the topics within my email.

I learned that a police unit responded to two calls about gunshots in City Heights. Chief Long said he reviewed the recorded tapes in which the sound of the gunshots was described as coming from the alley. The police unit which was dispatched determined that the sound was from hammering on metal in the alley and it wasn’t until they received another call the following morning that they went to the apartment where the murder-suicide occurred. I told Chief Long that this is not what was reported in the Union Tribune by the neighbor of the murder victim and that I still intended to contact that neighbor. He encouraged me to do so.

We discussed the police response to the naked swimmer in OB. While Chief Long defended the police response to the incident, he also said that SDPD also recognizes the fact that the quantity of police responding to an incident in itself can change the dynamics of a situation, and that less of a presence is generally deemed prudent. There remain legitimate and divergent views on the issue issue of how the naked swimmer incident was handled.

I expressed my concern about “boutique policing” in places such as OB where the police are called out to enforce laws against often victimless crimes, quality of life crimes- dogs barking, loud parties, illegal parking, smoking on the beaches etc. and what has been reported in the OB Rag as loitering.

Chief Long informed me that loitering laws were determined illegal by the courts, and so no one is ticketed for loitering. What I realized since our conversation is that vagrancy laws, I believe, are enforceable. In retrospect it is unfortunate that our conversation did not touch on that particular matter. It is also unfortunate that I was not more focused when I asked about how many police responses to quality of life crimes there are in the Western Division, and specifically OB, compared to the MidCity division and specifically City Heights.

Chief Lansdowne, I spent the greater part of the afternoon in Ocean Beach observing what was happening at the seawall at the end of Newport. I talked to a few of the homeless kids there and explained that they are at the center of a controversy in that community and listened to what they had to say. The U-T, and Channel 10 News aren’t particularly interested in their point of view, but I am.

I am posting this update to my open letter on the OB Rag which will convey the content of this email. I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge there your response as publicly as I voiced my concerns. I also need to emphasize that I hope you view this as part of an ongoing conversation between SDPD and the communities of City Heights and Ocean Beach. Questions are answered and questions continue to be raised, as they should be in a democratic society.


Anna Grace Daniels

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

just my 2 cents February 9, 2010 at 12:16 pm

This is a very positive thing. Nice follow up.
Often what is first reported is in error. People say things when a reporter ask’s a question or a camera is running that really is not to factual. The man who said the sounds came from a adjacant apartment …IF that were really the case and he did not see or hear police Sure should have called again ..I know I would have. I suspect he “thinks” he said it especially after the bodies are found.

Just curious what did the homeless kids have to say about this little controversy? I noticed some had a print out of photos and remarks…I also noticed copies on the ground…..


Mark Rafferty February 9, 2010 at 12:46 pm

I see this as a very positive step in keeping up the communication between law enforcement and the public. Thanks for letting us know the details of your conversation. It’s intersting to note that there are no more “loitering laws” on the book, because really, what is “loitering” anyways?

In a previous comment I posted, I mentioned that I find it absurd to refer to them as “Kerouacians”, as they don’t write anything of substance. But why call them “kids” either? If they truly were kids, they would be ticketed for truancy from school, which might even force them to go back to the city they are registered in and face a judge.

That’s what leads me to believe that they are over the age of 18 (or 16 in some states if you have a GED), and not “kids”. In fact, they aren’t even “youths” really, although that word doesn’t annoy me as much as “kids” does (maybe because it reminds me of “My Uncle Vinny”). I’m not quite sure what label I prefer, but “young homeless drifters” seems to fit the bill (although it’s a little long).

So can we please stop calling them “kids” or “Kerouacians” or any other euphemism of the sort? I’m open for suggestions…


Frank Gormlie February 9, 2010 at 1:32 pm

Mark, drifters conjures up images of young Clint Eastwood – when he was a kid. Drifters is a negative term to most, and it also connotes the homeless youth are like tumble weed. Why not just call them young tumbleweeds? And what was the problem with “youth”? How old are you, Mark? Me thinks thou doth complain too much. We will be having a report from our bloggers who interviewed a number of these young tumbleweeds yesterday.

And just to continue, how do you know they haven’t written anything of substance? When did Jack publish? How do you know one of them won’t publish a best-seller someday in the future about their days being a tumbleweed in the hard streets of OB? Geez. (My Uncle Vinny was a great movie! BTW)

Have you seen any “No Loitering” signs around? What code section do they cite?

And BTW, San Diego’s curfew law for teenagers was just struck down for being too broad. Young people still have some rights.


JMW February 9, 2010 at 12:57 pm

At 62, even if they’re 24, they’re kids to me – younger than my children; long way to go, lots to learn, lots to do – and many of them will, no doubt, get around to doing something sometime. Life is not always a straight line.


jon February 9, 2010 at 1:55 pm

Aint that the truth JMW. I know when I was 16-19 years old, I had some friends that spent their days hanging out at the wall in the same manner these kids do. We used to call them “gutter punks” or “crusty punks” because of the type of punk rock they liked and their penchant for not showering. Anyway, my point is a few of those same kids are still around OB. I see them often and they rent homes, hold down jobs and some of them even create wonderful music art, etc… I would consider them to be productive and contributing members of the community. And friends.


Chris Moore February 10, 2010 at 3:21 pm

“Crusties” is what we called them in Philly in the late 80’s & early 90’s.

The ones I see here are are a bit less crusty, and have nicer packs.


just my 2 cents February 9, 2010 at 1:12 pm

From age 14-24 is not the circumference of our life…..sometimes as youth’s we think it is.


Frank Gormlie February 9, 2010 at 1:33 pm

JM2C – got kids of your own?


just my 2 cents February 9, 2010 at 3:06 pm

Yes I have two Son’s age’s 33 and 31…So I know first hand how kids/young adults/minors think act and reason. I also have 4 grandchildren.


Mark Rafferty February 9, 2010 at 2:55 pm

First, I think we agree on the pointlessness of loitering laws. I don’t think it’s right to ticket people for simply standing in one place too long. Anyways, back to my all-important point on semantics…

I did not know that “drifters” had a negative connotation. One of my favorite novels is James Michener’s “The Drifters”, and he portrayed the twenty-something characters in a positive light. But even if it does have a slightly negative meaning, I don’t think that is a problem with “drifters ” or “young tumbleweeds” (which I like). They ARE tumbleweeds, because they do not plant roots in our community; once their resources dry up, they will drift away somewhere else. Since they are here now, it makes them locals–but only temporarily. They are not living here permanently, and they eventually will drift away when OB is no longer suits their needs. Maybe some of them will stay in OB when they find a job and start a family, but I doubt there will be very many of them who do.

Also, while some probably have written something of substance, and some of them might in the future, I doubt the majority of them do. As a lover of literature, I hope one day they do–I would buy a copy in a heartbeat. But to give them credit now for something they “might” do in the future is something I can’t accept. And I hope that when you say “the hard streets of OB”, you mean that tongue-in-cheek, because the reason they are in OB is due to the soft-cushioned streets of Newport and Abbott lying beneath their bare feet.

I’m 27, as are many of these “youths” that we speak of. While we are all somebody’s kid, most of them are not kids in the true sense of the word. To me, kids are minors under the age of 18–and even that’s pushing it. There’s a kids section at Blockbuster, a kids section at Target, kiddie rides at Sea World, etc., that are not aiming their products at mid-20 year old adults.

If a poll is conducted of the young tumbleweeds, please ask them:

1. Their age
2. Their home city
3. The length of time they’ve been in OB
4. When they plan to leave
5. What they are writing
6. Who is Jack Kerouac?



Shane Finneran February 9, 2010 at 5:59 pm

Mark, keep in mind that the homeless youth aren’t calling themselves Kerouacians…it’s a term that has come up on these comment boards. So no need for your spiteful questions #5 or #6.

As for question #4, is that something you ask of everyone you meet in OB? If not, why do you want it asked of the people we’re talking about here?


Mark Rafferty February 10, 2010 at 10:31 am

I wasn’t trying to be spiteful, but rather sarcastic… I put question number 4 in there because it relates to my original point, which is my refering to them as “drifters”. I don’t think they are here to stay, and that makes me sad as an OBecian. The reason they are in OB is because of our relatively lax attitudes(which is why I like living here), not because they want to set roots here, work here, and do other things that contributing members of society perform on a daily basis.

I don’t have a problem with them as a whole, because they have never been violent to me, nor have they ever cursed me out. But once they decide to drop the lifestyle, they will likely leave OB and not come back to live, work, or raise a family. That’s why I would like to ask them, “When do you plan on leaving?”, and not ask the same question to tourists (who leave after the day is over) and locals (who try to leave as little as possible). Like I said, I don’t think they are an issue as a group, but rather one or two bad apples that are making trouble. So let’s focus on getting these few troublemakers off the streets, and leave the rest be.


Kristin C. February 11, 2010 at 1:45 am

I find the “when do you plan on leaving” question pretty damned offensive. This is a community of transplants, and all of them came from somewhere. To assume because someone looks like a neo-hippy hanging out at the wall, that they have no benefit to this community is a mighty ballsy and self-important way of thinking. Why not just let them do what they want to do? You acknowledged that they’re not harming you…. let the police ticket/arrest people for actual crimes they commit, not because you’re bummed that there are some young hippies having fun by the beach.


Mark Rafferty February 11, 2010 at 12:05 pm

I never intended to offend anyone, so maybe I should have been more specific. When I posed that question, it was more of a hypothetical question–although it could be asked for real.

If you asked the majority of OBcians the same question (including myself), they’d respond, “Leave? This is my home. Why would I want to ever leave?” But if you asked the youths that question, I don’t think they’d respond the same way.

Point being, I don’t consider these drifters locals or OBcians, because I don’t see them staying here permanently. I would like to know which ones are staying, because that will give me time to help them learn how contribute to society as a whole. If I know which ones are truly drifters and are here just using us, then I can avoid them and focus on the ones who do have higher aspirations to accomplish more in life.


jon February 11, 2010 at 9:02 am

I’m going to jump to Mark’s defense a little bit here because I agree with some of what he’s saying. Perhaps a better question would have been, “How long do you plan to stay?” I don’t think he meant his list of questions to be hostile in nature (I could be wrong), the framing of the questions could have been a bit softer, but I think Mark made it clear he doesn’t have a problem with the “temporary residents.” Trying to focus on the actual trouble makers is a sound idea. They not only give OB a bad name, but apparently give the rest of our houseless brethren a bad name as well. If we can focus this conversation on the trouble making few and not the whole of this community of travelers, I believe our community discussion will begin to head in the appropriate direction. I also wouldn’t be surprised to find out that the “troublemaking few” are actually tweakers from Lakeside just here for the day and not the “hippie kids.” Just sayin….


Dave Sparling February 9, 2010 at 6:50 pm

While Chief Long defended the police response to the incident—-Interesting that the Chief would defend that many police cars speeding into OB after the incident was over. The police were just lucky that some innocent citizen was not killed by reckless cop drivers that day. Those who saw 4 of them screech to a stop at the VA beach memorial know what I am talking about.


jettyboy February 10, 2010 at 9:34 am

Drifters shouldn’t be considered a negative term, they did some of the best do-wop ever. There Goes My Baby, Save the Last Dance for Me, Under the Boardwalk, That Magic Moment,


Frank Gormlie February 10, 2010 at 10:02 am

I stand (dance) corrected.


Mark Rafferty February 10, 2010 at 10:34 am

Yes, the Drifters are a great band–and there sure are a lot of them under the boardwalk in OB…


Sunshine February 10, 2010 at 10:54 am

Your writings are again right on. Open, transparent discussion at its finest! I am on the edge of my seat awaiting your next update! Keep shining the spotlight on them, asking the questions, and questioning their answers. This is the stuff real change is born in.


Dennis February 17, 2010 at 9:19 am

I also don’t like the term “kids” applied to anyone 18 or over. The “kids” term never seems to be used when your talking about men and women who are 18 and fighting and dying in a war zone. 18 and over aren’t kids. They could safely be referred to as “young adults”. I also think Mark is making valid points in a non-facecious manner. However, I don’t like seeing “young adults” being harrased by police simply for thier chosen life style and that they happen to be in the same neighborhood I live in. I also believe gentrifacation is creeping in and the well-to-doer’s who are coming in with it, need to understand how we feel about leaving OB as it was and is, and forget about turning our place into another La Jolla.


lane tobias February 17, 2010 at 2:07 pm

well said dennis – although, I have to say, as a 26 year old who looks my age (not younger) people call me “kid” all the time. Semantics aside, I think that anyone who resides in OB – be it in a house, on the street, for 10 years, or for 3 months – is a part of this community and hsould be treated as such. Your point on gentrification is right on, too.


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