Updated with Video: Police ordered to ‘keep the peace’ at La Jolla Children’s Pool
• VIDEO: To see the video of seals being harassed by two young women at La Jolla’s Children’s Pool beach in February 2013, click on the image above or go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1d1VhkFbbkc
By Pat Sherman
Updated, 2:15 p.m. Feb. 20, 2013
In a move many are calling unnecessary and heavy-handed (but suddenly maybe not) San Diego Police officers began patrolling Children’s Pool beach Feb. 12 to “keep the peace” between those who want the shores reserved for seals, and those who want either shared use between seals, swimmers, divers and fishermen or prefer the seal colony be coaxed elsewhere.
Lt. Larry Hesselgesser with San Diego Police’s Northern Division, who monitored the beach with a park ranger Feb. 14, said police experienced no problems during their first week of surveillance, other than tourists getting too close to seals.
But a distressing incident over the weekend has forced police and the public to reassess the contentious situation at the Children’s Pool with perhaps greater support for the police presence.
Larry Wan, founder and Chairman of the Western Alliance for Nature, which oversees the new real-time, infrared “seal cam” installed at Children’s Pool beach Jan. 24 at Mayor Bob Filner’s request, released a video segment from the live streaming that shows two young women harassing the pregnant and nursing seals one night by “sitting on them, pulling their flippers, kicking them, flashing lights in their faces — until each and every one of them is driven off the beach,” said Wan. In the heartbreaking video, one woman is photographing the other during the altercation.
No arrests have been made in the incident. (The video can be viewed at the top of this webpage.)
Wan said the new “seal cam,” on average, gets more than 1,000 viewers each day from as far away as Russia and Iran.
Northern Division Police Captain Brian Ahearn said police would monitor the beach, one officer at a time, for about two weeks — though they could stay longer if officers determine there is a need.
Ahearn said the officers would be there from the morning into the night to assure public safety and cite or arrest people who break laws, such as spitting on another person (a battery charge) or making criminal threats.
“There’s laws on the books for the protection of the animals as well,” Ahearn said, “officers have the discretion to enforce the law.”
He explained that the police department decided to place an officer at Children’s Pool due to a recent increase in reported incidents of bullying and intimidation between seal advocates and beach access proponents.
“Some people I think were fearful that it was going to escalate into physical violence against each other or the seals,” Ahearn said. “It’s a good time to make sure people understand that we’re not going to tolerate any kind of violent crime. We do this throughout other parts of the city to try to prevent an escalation.”
Though the conflagration at Children’s Pool has raged for at least a decade, Ahearn said he believes the recent spike in complaints is due to the installation of the web camera atop the condemned lifeguard tower, installed ostensibly so the international public can watch live seal births ’round the clock.
Though one officer told the Light and another source that the police presence was ordered by Mayor Filner, Ahearn maintained that it was a decision made by San Diego Police.
“I know with the new mayor there is a renewed emphasis on the Children’s Pool (activities), but I haven’t been ordered by the mayor to do this,” Ahearn said. “This is something the police department decided was the right thing to do … at the right time. I’m going to continue to deploy my officers out there and ultimately make a determination as to whether we’re still needed.”
A request for comment from the mayor’s office was not returned by Feb. 15, though during a press conference unveiling the webcam Filner said, “If we have somebody here, whether it’s a ranger or a police officer all the time until we settle this, that should be enforcement enough.”
La Jolla resident Suzanne Penn said she ultimately believes the beach is too polluted for use by humans — including her own young son — and should be reserved for seals. However, given the installation of the webcam, Penn said the police presence is “a little bit much.”
Nancy Doyel, an educator visiting from Washington, also said the officer “seems like overkill. “I wouldn’t want that much surveillance,” she said. “It’s almost like big brother-ish with the cameras and police.”
Using binoculars to follow a school of yellowtail (or “big yellows” as he calls them), diver, surfer and spear-fisherman Andy Smith said he recognizes both the need to protect the seals and citizens’ legal right to access the beach.
“There’s a lot of idiots out there,” he said. “I mean, have some compassion. When there’s a female seal on the beach having a baby, you want to give it a little space because she’s going to freak out. That’s not rocket science.”
However, Smith said he thinks having a police officer stationed at Children’s Pool is “a waste of the taxpayers’ money. “There’s a lifeguard station right there,” he said. “Although it’s a distraction to have them dealing with altercations here, they’re badge-carrying guys. … I think the police officer can use his time better. Go catch a rapist or murderer — whatever — rather than sit here for god’s sakes.”
— Susan DeMaggio contributed to this report
• SEE THE UPDATE ABOUT THIS STORY: “Mayor orders Children’s Pool in La Jolla closed after dark through May 15, 2013” at http://www.lajollalight.com/?p=103605
- Mayor shares details of recently installed ‘seal cam’ at La Jolla Children’s Pool
- UPDATED (Jan. 25): Webcam to monitor seals installed at La Jolla Children’s Pool
- Mayor extends length of pupping season rope at La Jolla Children’s Pool
- Coastal Commission to rule on year-round seal rope July 11
- Coastal Commission approves permit for year-round seal rope
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