Meet the ex-con who patrols La Jolla after dark
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He’s no hero. Heroes don’t do seven years in federal prison for drug trafficking. But Doug Strong is doing his best to make amends to the community he once harmed. Since his release in 2010, the 55-year-old La Jollan says, he’s turned his life around. He’s grateful to be out, and to be living in a beautiful neighborhood — as the onsite maintenance manager for three rental properties owned by his sister. In fact, he’s so grateful, he feels compelled to give back.
We first noticed the Brooklyn-born-and-bred Strong, who moved to The Village in 1996, after a car darted out of an alley on Pearl Street by Chedi Thai Bistro. It was going so fast, it nearly struck a man pushing a baby stroller. Strong had been walking by, but instead walked right in front of the young male driver’s path. What occurred next was, shall we say, a little Brooklyn-style chat that resulted in an apology from the driver.
“I try to do the right thing,” says Strong, whose past also includes serving in the Navy from 1980 to 1984 with an honorable discharge. “I always calmly try to explain to someone what they’ve just done wrong and why they need to never do it again. That’s usually all it takes.”
Strong performs his “patrols” every night from 6 p.m. until around 2 a.m., trying to make others show as much respect for The Village as he does. In the process, he claims, he has thwarted drug deals and made litterbugs and public urinators question their choices.
Why do you do this?
A: The police are stretched too thin. There’s like a vacuum. Most of the day, I’ve got my hands full helping my sister out. But I’m up at night, so I go out. The way I was brought up in New York is you have respect for your neighborhood, you don’t (expletive) where you eat. You protect each other. In the family right next door, there was 16 kids and there was seven of us. That’s 23 of us in two houses. You couldn’t do nothing wrong there.
What behavior upsets you the most to see?
A: I really hate guys urinating on people’s houses. There was this one drunk guy who had his junk out on Marine Street, my block, in front of this nice old lady, who was obviously offended by what he was doing. So I grabbed him and slammed him against a wall.
I also can’t stand taggers. I remember some kids decided to tag the El Pescador Fish Market just after it opened in 2013. I grabbed one of them — he’s got a can of spray-paint out — and I screamed, ‘What are you, stupid? Don’t do that! Do you know how hard that guy had to work to get that place?’
Maybe I got carried away, but I’ve never seen either of those guys in La Jolla since.
Was there ever any situation, or any person, you were scared to confront? What happens when someone is twice your size?
A: Who cares? It doesn’t matter, because I think what’s right will prevail. If I’m in the right, then they lose their argument.
What’s your take on La Jolla’s homeless situation?
A: I can tell you exactly how many homeless people there are in this whole community — 26. I know them all, and if they’re not doing anything bad, I leave them be. You gotta have a heart for these people. They’re sleeping in underground garages. Most of them have mental disabilities. I think they’re out there because President Reagan closed down the mental facilities. They’re people, just like you and me.
What did you do as a profession before drug-smuggling, maintenance and vigilantism?
A: I started out at 11 years old when my mother gave me a shoe-shine kit for Christmas. She said, ‘You want Matchbox cars? Go out and hustle. There’s five other (siblings) below you, and there’s no Santa Claus.’ So I hustled. Later, I worked in a butcher’s shop and did carpentry — framing and snaplines. I joined the Navy at 17. I moved out here 22 years ago, after I got divorced and my wife moved with my son to Canada. He plays hockey now.
Why did you go to prison, and do you regret any of your own choices?
A: I’m not gonna lie. My life is an open book. I was smuggling across the border. I was stupid and I served my time. I got sent away for drug possession two other times, too. My sister wouldn’t even let me move back in until I changed my ways. I had to live in Logan Heights for a year before she allowed me back. But there’s redemption. As a Catholic, I believe that. Look, I’ve loved living my life. It ain’t what I wanted, but it’s God’s will. My problems are just lessons.
What makes you not just a street thug?
A: I am, a little bit. I still got that dark side in me. It’s been a struggle, but I try to do good.
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