Huntington Beach police are readying new programs under new leadership for this year’s Vans US Open of Surfing – a premier surfing competition that draws thousands to the sand.
After last year’s Open closed with a civil disturbance on Main Street, the community called for an overhaul of the event.
Huntington Beach has historically allocated heavy resources for the world-renowned surfing event, but this year they are equipped with an arsenal of new tools, said Lt. Kelly Rodriguez.
Rodriguez was appointed to the Special Enforcement Bureau in September, which is responsible for overseeing enforcement for downtown and special events, including the US Open.
“We’ve identified the problem areas and we’ve done additional training on how to tactically deploy for large crowds,”Rodriguez said.
There will be no more concerts and no vendors passing out free products this year.
In addition, a smaller event with a larger venue footprint is expected to eliminate crowding, Rodriguez said.
“There’s more ground space so people won’t bump into each other and there is less congestion,”she said. “There’s more sand and a bigger focus on surfing, which is celebrating 100 years in Huntington Beach.”
A mounted enforcement unit, first used on July 4 at the suggestion of Police Chief Robert Handy, will again patrol downtown.
The horses for the surf event are from the Orange County Mounted Enforcement Unit, but Huntington Beach is preparing to launch its own unit come September.
“I’m very excited to see how it goes with the US Open,”Rodriguez said. On July 4, “one horse took the place of three cops. It was great.”
Eighteen recently-installed surveillance cameras will be manned, and there will be up to 40 officers assigned to the venue, Rodriguez said.
Seven motor officers are also assigned with patrolling downtown during the competition, and undercover officers will hit the beach looking for alcohol violations.
Lt. Mitch O’Brien added there will be more enforcement in outlying areas to look for people engaging in illegal activity in their cars, a major complaint from residents in previous years.
“We want to let these kids know we’re watching everything now,”he said. “We’re going to have horses, we’re going to have guys on bikes, you’re going to see more cops.”
Even though the event has been downsized, O’Brien said they expect more than 20,000 people to hit the beach daily.
“We still expect the crowds,”he said. “We still think this event has gotten really big, but we hope this year’s event focuses on the sporting aspect of it.”
The US Open kicks off July 26 and will run until Aug. 3.