Donald DeBlasio, another neighborhood resident, reflects on Mission Beach being a narrow peninsula between the ocean and the bay that has only one southern and one northern escape. "My guess is that the criminals are not swimming out of here," he says.
The problem, according to DeBlasio, is less one of manpower shortage than it is of management. "There isn't a police presence in the beach area," he says. "A cop is referred to as a flatfoot. We don't have those here in San Diego. It's rare to see a single policeman, or maybe two, out walking a beat. They're usually wrapped in their cars with their computers and guns, and they're ganged together.
"If you look at the series of things that led up to the murder this summer, there were guys out there with a bonfire -- it's not like they were hiding -- and there were noise complaints, people screaming and yelling, and kegs. It's easy to play 'what if,' but what if the area was patrolled, and they didn't have the message over the years that it's not only okay to drink here -- hell, we're going to plant a keg? I think you can understand why the other guys who were carrying guns had no fear, either, to hang out there and steal the bicycles and say, 'Hey, we can get out of here, too.' "
In New York City, where DeBlasio is from, "They put cops out walking a beat to let the criminals know that around any corner, at any time, a policeman could be popping up. I don't see that at all here in San Diego. They always say we need more police, but if we had more police we'd have more police in cars driving around or sitting at 7-Eleven. They don't patrol, they don't walk a beat. They gather together and wait for something to happen. Then they're dispatched and five cars show up. We can have more police, but the usage of the police is what I question.
"On Long Island, every once in a while, two cops would park and talk to each other. When that would happen, all the neighbors would call the dispatcher and complain that they weren't doing their job.
"I understand that being a flatfoot is the lowliest job that a New York policeman can have. It is not a fun job, yet it is a necessary job. Even as a kid growing up, they used to do that with the kids gathering in the park. They'd put the cops out on a beat, and they'd sneak up on us, and it made us think that, if we were out drinking our beer, a cop could be coming up. Just the thought that they could sneak up on you was enough, as opposed to a car driving up on you. No way is a police car going to sneak up on you."
According to DeBlasio, the population density in Mission and Pacific Beach is similar to much of New York. But the SDPD "doesn't want to put the cops out there. They don't want them to walk beats. I had friends who were New York police, a crazy job. Who would want to do it? You've got to be nuts. And you know what they told me? 'That's my job.' It is not for everybody, and they understand, when they put on their uniform and go out there, they're putting a bulls-eye on themselves. But that's what they chose to do. If you're looking for the glory and to walk on the beach in your shorts with your friends, then maybe police work isn't what you should be doing."
Paul Cullen's robbery "shook us, because that could have been any one of us," says DeBlasio, "and the way that was handled, the cops seem to just want to fill out a report."
In the robbery, Cullen lost $100 cash, four credit cards, his Social Security card, and his driver's license. The thieves immediately used the credit cards to buy gas, but the card companies, such as Citibank and American Express, quickly closed Cullen's accounts. His luck with the Department of Motor Vehicles has not been as good. He asked the agency for a new driver's license, with a new number, to help protect against his identity being stolen. "They said my request had been denied," says Cullen, "but they couldn't give me a reason why." He had honored the DMV's request to mail to Sacramento the police report and an affidavit from Citibank that the thieves had tried to use his license. "But they said my materials were sent to microfilm. Now, I've gotten a voice-mail message that they can't find my documents. So I'm going to have to start over."