Skateboarders, particularly in San Diego’s beach communities, are accustomed to getting citations from police for riding in either in the street or on the sidewalk in a business district. But in Ocean Beach, the penalties for violating San Diego Municipal Code Ordinance 84.12 have recently become considerably more severe: police are not only citing violators but impounding their boards as “evidence” until their court dates.
This new edict was handed down by Sergeant Dennis Love shortly after he assumed command last October of the Western Division’s beach team. “Very quickly, I became aware of the fact that our law enforcement was not working,” Love says. “These skateboarders were causing lots of problems – older people were constantly getting knocked down, and there was a lot of property damage – and even though we were citing them, it wasn’t effective. They’d still ride down Newport Avenue, and whenever they’d see a police car, they’d simply pick up their boards and start walking. So I told all the people working for me that I was going to change our enforcement policy so that whenever we cite a kid, we should also impound their boards as evidence, in the hopes of really getting their attention.”
Love won’t say how many skateboards have subsequently been impounded, but local riders say not a day goes by without someone’s board getting nabbed. And as far as Oscar Jordan, 15, is concerned, the cops are cracking down a little too hard. One day last month, Jordan says, he was legally riding his board on the sidewalk along Niagara Avenue, outside the business district. “But then I got slammed and my board went out into the street,” he says, “and all of a sudden a cop drives up, gives me a ticket, and takes my board. I told him it was an accident, that I had been riding on the sidewalk, but he said ‘I don’t care – you shouldn’t be riding in the street.’”
Mike Ryan, owner of the Just Skates shop on Bacon Street, agrees with Jordan that the cops are being unfairly harsh, and he thinks there’s more to it than Love is willing to admit. Around the same time that police began impounding boards, three transients, in separate incidents, were allegedly beaten by board-wielding teens belonging to an informal Ocean Beach skateboard gang. And while Love insists the beatings “had no bearing on our new enforcement policy,” Ryan has his doubts.
“As soon as the violence started, that’s when they (police) started coming down real hard on skateboarders and it can’t just be a coincidence,” he says. “They’re not just impounding the skateboards, they’re harassing the kids, patting them down as if they had weapons on them and accusing them of being in a gang. I had one kid in here who works on fishing boats, and he not only had his board taken away, he was accused of being a criminal or a derelict or a drug pusher. Another guy, in his early 20s with a good job paying about $30,000 a year, was also harassed up and down. And when he told the cop, ‘This is harassment,’ the cop said, ‘You probably couldn’t even spell harassment.’”
Regardless of what prompted this police crackdown on Ocean Beach skateboarders, Ryan says, the seizures have produced a troublesome side effect: a sharp increase in skateboard thefts. “It’s gotten to the point where it’s not unusual for me to hear of two or three boards stolen each day,” Ryan says. “All of a sudden, skateboards have become the new thing to steal, the new hubcaps, the new car stereos. And I may be making an assumption here, but it seems to me when some punks get their boards taken away by police, they turn around and take boards away from the younger kids.
“Just a few days ago, this little kid, maybe 10 or 11, came into my store and told me a real sad story. He had gotten this real nice skateboard as a Christmas present from his parents, and several weeks later he was out on the very end of the pier, standing on his board, fishing. A group of older kids came by and asked him if they could try out his board, he said no, his parents told him not to let anyone else ride his board, and they walked off. A few minutes later they came back, and this time, one of them just reached out and yanked it from underneath his feet and took off riding down the pier. He chased the thief all the way to Sunset Cliffs Boulevard until he couldn’t run anymore, and he had to call his mom to pick him up. And he was just heartbroken, because he knew he’d never get his skateboard back.”