San Diego Police Beach Team Use Body Cameras to Patrol Beach for First Summer

As millions crowd San Diego beaches this summer, there are several things beachgoers should be aware of when heading to the beach.

As officers with the beach team monitor the activity and look for safety concerns, this is the first summer they're doing it with their body cameras rolling.

"It's great. We turn them on for every enforcement contact that we do. It goes on a website and downloads onto our little dock we have back at the station," said beach team Officer Angela Johnson.

You should expect crowds at San Diego beaches during the summer, but you shouldn't see people drinking on the beach anymore.

Alcohol hasn't been allowed there for years, but San Diego police say people are still bringing it in.

Between May and September, extra patrol officers from around the city are brought in to help Northern Division handle the crowds.

The beach team cruises the sand in off-road vehicles, making sure people are following the regulations, which include: no smoking, no glass bottles, and no alcohol.

"With alcohol, we get a lot of incidents, where people start fights, go out swimming, forget how to swim," said Officer Johnson.

Police say even though signs are posted throughout the beach area, a lot of people don't seem to know the rules on the beach also apply to the adjacent parking lots, and the boardwalk.

Dogs are not allowed in any of those areas between 9 a.m. - 6 p.m. After 6 p.m., dogs must be on a leash.

"The boardwalk gets so crowded during the summer time. People were tripping over dog leashes. Dogs didn't know what to do. They would react and bite somebody," said Officer Johnson.

The crowds can often make people impatient, and a disagreement over a spot on the sand or a parking space can often escalate into a fight, says Northern Division Captain Mark Hanten.

"There's people everywhere. Have an expectation that it's going to take a while to find a parking space, to get through an intersection, walk across the street even. So bring your patience," said Captain Hanten.

At the recent Mission Beach town council meeting, residents asked about the discretion beach team officers use to enforce laws, such as drinking on the beach.

The question that came up: Would a couple peacefully walking on the boardwalk, holding a plastic cup containing an alcoholic drink, be as likely to receive a ticket as a rowdy beach crowd?

"My answer to them is, 'Yes, we have to. We can't show that we're going to give them preferential treatment and go right next door to a party, and tell them, no you can't drink,' " said Captain Hanten.

"We have a firm posture out here," Hanten said. "With this many people, it's hard for us to come back to a situation that can escalate down the road."

Police say say thefts also increase at beach parking lots during the summer, and advise you to lock your car, conceal your belongings, and bring your car keys with you.

"Make sure you don't leave your keys anywhere near your car. These thieves will watch areas and look for people doing that," said Captain Hanten.

This summer, the beach team has a second boat to help them patrol Mission Bay.

"If someone is in an accident or in the water, we have that much faster of a response time for people that need it," said beach team Officer Jeremy Huff.

The 21.5' Triumph arrived late last year, and is equipped with the latest technology, such as a side-scan sonar, which can help officers find swimmers and detect objects underwater.

Police say the main violations they see on the water are speeding in 5 mile per hour zones, and going the wrong direction. Mission Bay has a counterclockwise traffic scheme.

Officer Huff also wears a body camera while enforcing boating laws. He says it doesn't change how he works, or interacts with people. He sees the body camera as an extra tool.

"Having been in law enforcement the last 10 years and not being used to it, there's definitely a learning curve in muscle memory, in turning it on," said Officer Huff.

Officer Johnson, who was one of the first officers to use a body camera when the department rolled them out last year, agrees the biggest challenge is muscle memory.

"We're trying to get to the point where before we even get out of the car to make that contact, we turn on the camera inside the car. That way, it's already rolling and we don't forget about it," said Officer Johnson.

Beach team officers will get plenty of opportunities to test out their muscle memory.

Nearly one million people are expected to visit San Diego beaches over the July 4th holiday weekend, and 10 million people during the summer.

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