As the number of watchful eyes on the beach increases, so do the number of calls to police about alleged wrongdoings or Marine Mammal Protection Act violations there, prompting Northern Division police Capt. Brian Ahearn to station watch at the beach 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to get a firsthand look at reported criminal activity and bring a sense of calm to the temperamental area.
“The installation of the camera has generated a lot of complaints that we weren’t getting before,” said Ahearn. “People from all over the world have the ability to monitor that camera, so what they perceive to be a problem is now being reported to police.”
Ahearn dismisses any allegations from those who say his department is serving as a pawn in someone else’s political game.
“The order came from me,” he said. “What I wanted to accomplish was to see if what was being reported to us by citizens is what my officers are seeing as well, or if is it being interpreted differently by different people.”
The video camera at the beach does not record the footage it streams, so the only way of knowing whether re-ported criminal activity is, in fact, taking place is by having an officer keep watch on the area in person.
For the most part, the reports are not elevated to the status of criminal violations, he said, but it is important to have an officer there to confirm the calls.
“For example, we recently got a call of somebody on the beach with a flashlight disturbing the seals,” he said. “It turned out it was a father and son who were actually at the top of the stairs walking around and they had a flashlight because it was dark, so they were not remotely close to being involved in any type of criminal activity.”
There are, however, instances that require more scrutiny, like the well-publicized incident just after midnight on Feb. 15, during which two young women were caught blatantly harassing the seals by pulling at the seals’ flippers, flashing bright camera lights in their faces and even attempting to sit on a seal.
What began as a 7 a.m.-to-11 p.m. watch on Feb. 12 lengthened to a 24-hour watch on Feb. 15 after the video of the potentially criminal act surfaced.
“That video was captured at about 12:15 after midnight, so we expanded it to 24/7, and we began a criminal investigation on that,” said Ahearn. “If that’s the case, that there’s people out there late at night trying to do that, let’s make sure we have a presence out there.”
Another benefit of having officers on duty at the Children’s Pool is to deter crime and restore peace at the site, he said.
“For some reason the Children’s Pool is back on the map, and there’s been an increase in the amount of criticism going back and forth,” he said. “I just don’t want it to escalate into any kind of physical confrontation, so now is a good time to have a uniform presence and try to get people to just calm down and get back to some degree of civil conversation.”
He said criminal violations can — and have — occurred when people are heated by passion for a particular cause.
“Pick and choose which side you want to be on. I just don’t want things to escalate into what are typically reasonable people who get involved in some sort of criminal act. It has happened before. People who are passionate about an issue let their emotions get the best of them, and they’ve committed crime,” he said. “I just don’t want it to get to that level.”
Ahearn said the police presence at the Children’s Pool is not permanent.
“It’s a temporary presence to try to bring a little sense of calm back to the pool so the city can get back to the business at hand,” he said. “So far, I think it has worked out well.”