Crackdowns on Lone Surfers and Paddleboarders Threaten to Erode Respect for Law Enforcement Even Further

Los Angeles police officers patrol a sparsely populated Venice Beach boardwalk in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)

I’ve been a cop for nearly 40 years. For the last 20 of them, I’ve had the good fortune of being granted the platform, first at National Review Online, later at City Journal, Ricochet, and here at PJ Media, to write on behalf of my fellow police officers when their actions came under what I considered to be unfair criticism. Police work has grown more difficult since I began, all the more so when cops’ split-second decisions are scrutinized by an uninformed public after having been mischaracterized in the media, sometimes deliberately.


So it saddens me to observe some of the asininity on display among some of my fellow police officers in recent days as fear of the coronavirus pandemic brings the country to its knees. Reason and common sense have in some places been abandoned in favor of a level of social control rarely seen in any country that calls itself free, much less in the United States of America. Here in Southern California, we have seen police officers ticketing a surfer on an otherwise empty beach, citing people for sitting in parked cars while watching a sunset, and, in what may be the most farcical display of them all, using not just one but two boats to corral and arrest a lone paddleboarder off the coast of Malibu.

I do not discount the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic. Indeed, I am of a sufficiently advanced age to be considered a high-risk patient if I were to contract the disease. But neither do I discount the genuine threat to liberty posed by the various orders, decrees, edicts, and mandates lately imposed by the nation’s governors, mayors, health commissioners, and every other sort of government functionary exercising their newly discovered power to limit the freedom of their fellow citizens. In the case of the people being hassled for watching the sunset, cited above, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department was so proud of this exercise of authority that they made it their pinned tweet on their Twitter account.


Surely the publicity that has attended these enforcement actions will reduce the incidence of surfing, sunset-watching, and paddle boarding up and down the coast of Southern California, but at what cost to the already eroding level of respect for law enforcement? Making matters worse is the decision to grant early release to 3,500 inmates in California so as to avert a coronavirus outbreak in the state’s 35 prisons. That’s right, while ordinarily law-abiding people are rousted by the police for daring to engage in harmless activities so as to avoid going stir crazy, convicted felons are being sprung from prison. Yes, we must release all those burglars, car thieves, and con artists to make room for the expected wave of surfers, paddle boarders, and sunset watchers. One feels safer already.

Regular readers will know I spent more than 30 years with the Los Angeles Police Department and am now working for a much smaller agency in Southern California. My duties occasionally take me back to Los Angeles, and they did so recently, offering me a glimpse at how police and sheriff’s deputies are enforcing the law during this pandemic. I passed through Malibu, where the notorious paddleboarder was captured, and I saw miles and miles of no-parking signs posted along any stretch of Pacific Coast Highway that offered access to a beach, at some of which were sheriff’s deputies posted to deter any who might be tempted to stop and dip their toes in the ocean. It’s interesting to note that on a typical summer day along those same beaches, one finds groups of deputies patrolling on foot and on ATVs while issuing citations to people smoking or drinking beer. It’s hard to imagine why those same deputies couldn’t be used to enforce a level of social distancing on beaches where in almost every case it occurs spontaneously.


It was when I got to downtown L.A. that I beheld evidence of the moral inversion that was occurring well before the term “coronavirus” entered the lexicon but has been made even more starkly clear since. While sheriff’s deputies, police officers, and park rangers made sure the beaches and recreation areas of Southern California were kept free of people, the skid row area was just as teeming as ever, with tents lining the sidewalks in unambiguous violation of the law, and with the denizens free to roam and congregate as they please, undeterred by the prospect of arrest for their drug use or any of the other crimes they so routinely commit. One such encampment thrives along the 101 Freeway where it can be viewed from the nearby Hall of Justice, the headquarters for both the L.A. County District Attorney and, yes, the Sheriff’s Department.

This, gentle readers, is lunacy. I pray wiser heads emerge from the madness.



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