My Frustrations With The Laguna Beach Police

I wrote this letter after years and years of putting up with the Laguna Beach Police Department. So far it has been sent to the Laguna Beach Independent, the Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot, and the Orange County Register. Who knows if it they'll have the passion to publish it; all I know is that the Mushroom Clan most certainly does. Enjoy.

"My Frustrations With The Laguna Beach Police"

I've lived in Laguna Beach my entire life. I went to preschool downtown at the Presbyterian Church, elementary school at Top of the World, middle school at Thurston, and graduated from Laguna High in 2008. And ever since I met "Officer McGruff" in 1993 and was introduced to the D.A.R.E. program, I've been very aware and familiar with the Laguna Beach Police Department. I'm proud to say that I love this town, and admire all of those who work hard to ensure that our community remains safe and intact. Yet I feel torn when I was raised to view the police as role models and witness firsthand otherwise. As a student in the Laguna Beach Unified School District, I was warned of the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse and learned of the stark reality that is drunk driving. To this day I appreciate wholeheartedly these lessons among other contributions the LBPD have brought into my life. Still, there are aspects of the police force that trouble me greatly. For example, in late August 2006, while lighting candles at the shrine dedicated to my friend Max Caputo on PCH below Upland Rd., an LBPD officer driving one of the force's SUV's made a U-turn and accelerated northbound at what I would estimate to be at least 60 mph. Now many of us often drive at 60 mph or more down the highway, and I myself have been more than guilty of such at times. But this instance put me over the edge. When the officer sped out of the U-turn and proceeded northward, he made absolutely no attempt whatsoever to slow his speed as he passed the crowd. For those of you unaware of the makeshift memorial or its significance, I feel compelled to indulge in a slight though necessary tangent. On August 19th, Laguna Beach High School student Max Caputo was struck and killed by what has been assumed by many to be a drunk driver while riding his bicycle along Pacific Coast Highway. I make this tangent intentionally; the efforts of the Laguna Beach Police Department in finding the suspect, though unsuccessful, were nothing short of exceptional, and are forever appreciated by myself as well as the hundreds of friends and family that were fortunate enough to experience Max's life. What kills me, however, is the fact that the very same force working so hard to solve a case involving a hit and run narrowly avoided hitting several of my friends as this aforementioned officer swerved towards the crowd of mourners. And I simply ask this: what in the hell could possibly demand such urgency at 1:30am in Laguna Beach that an officer felt it necessary to approach a crowd of young adults and parents at high speed and avoid collision by mere feet? I simply cannot find even the most miniscule dose of reason in such an episode. And this occurred in front of nearly 20 or more individuals, who I can assure will act as witnesses to my claim should they need to do so. Sadly, this remains only one of many times where I've been disappointed with the behavior of a Laguna Beach police officer. One particular example stands as so ridiculous that I often struggle to convince people it ever even happened. In late 2007 I was driving down PCH in the right lane near Pearl Street with my younger sister and a friend when I was cut off by an LBPD Crown Victoria. The officer had made no effort to warn me of his fast approach, and even failed to use his indicator as he swept violently across the road, nearly forcing me to swerve off to the right and collide with a parked vehicle. I was so infuriated that I drove after the officer, and as I pulled up to him kindly asked that he use his indicator next time. After this I made a turn up Bluebird Canyon, bound for a friend's house on Santa Cruz St. behind Bluebird Park. I as I made my turn up the canyon, I saw the officer's vehicle flip an abrupt U-Turn ahead of me, and as I drove up Bluebird was surprised to see the very police car that had practically thrown me off the highway minutes before now pulling me over. I promptly grabbed my insurance and registration from my glovebox and removed my driver's license from my wallet. At the time I was unaware of the system established to allow local citizens to place complaints with the LBPD, and greatly regret not retrieving his name or badge number. He took one look at me and said, with great fury, "Do you know who I am? Do you know who I am? I'm a police officer. And now I'm having to deal with you when I could be off saving someone's life". I calmly replied, "Yes sir, I see this" (thinking to myself, realistically, if I were scheduled to be saving lives at a particular hour, I wouldn't instead put aside the time to confront a 17 year old on the issue of my lane change indicator). He then explained to me how he could ticket me for "disrupting traffic flow" by slowing down and pulling up beside his car in order to ask him to use his indicator next time. This, in my opinion, was nothing more than a sorry attempt by an enraged police officer to remind me that I am always in some way breaking the law. I said nothing and allowed his ego-fueled fire to slowly burn itself out, dowsing its flames with courtesy and silence when I had the chance. Yet he kept going on, trying to scare me from ever standing up to "the law". And frankly, I had seen this before, and was content with waiting for whatever ticket he wanted to throw at me. But then it came. Out of nowhere. In the middle of his largely unintelligible rant, the officer pointed at the lights affixed to the top of his car. He then said, and I am willing to put myself on the line in the local paper to have this quote heard, "You see those lights? You see those lights? Those mean I can do whatever the f**k I want." My mouth dropped at that point. I could not believe that a guy who had probably spent the earlier portion of his shift at El Morro teaching children how to live respectable and drug-free lives had just dropped the F-Bomb in front of my 14-year old sister. Since that day I have been unable and unwilling to respect the Laguna Beach Police Department. Police departments were created to protect and serve their communities. I wish that I could say this is the case with our own, but I can't. I won't. The fact that our safe and quaint town provides officers with less action and hero moments than a inner city ghetto in no way justifies the need of some officers to take down citizens out of shear boredom. And I have found that this false sense of entitlement that has infected much of the LBPD to still be flourishing even now as I return home for my winter break from my sophomore year of college. The other night I was driving into town on Laguna Canyon Road, completely sober and in compliance with the speed limit. Yet an officer felt the need to follow me for several miles, down Broadway and up PCH in North Laguna. I'm past the legal age for curfew, all of my tail and brakelights have been recently checked and are in perfect condition, and I had been obeying all traffic laws the entire night. So why the need to intimidate me? Surely there is something more important for a police officer to do with his shift than follow a law-abiding citizen around for kicks. In the last week alone, I have noted five separate incidents in which local police officers have found it somehow necessary to pull someone over in the middle of the road, typically on PCH. Today on the way home to write this very letter, I almost crashed my car as I came up the hill from Aliso towards West St. when an officer's vehicle was parked in the middle of the right lane. Of course, if the sidewalk had been lined with parked cars and he was provided no alternative I would understand entirely his parking in the center of the lane. This was not the case, however, and the whole side of of the highway was in fact clear of parked vehicles. Yet for who knows what reason, the officer thought it much more logical to park right there. And in typical fashion, his fellow officers soon parked behind him, blocking the lane further (I witnessed this build up upon my return the opposite direction approximately twenty minutes later). Even worse was an incident a week ago when I turned off PCH onto Forest Ave., only to have the entire street blocked by a LBPD vehicle, which appeared to be unoccupied. I was forced to literally back into PCH, something generally not taught in Driver's Ed. And the list goes on, and on, and on. I think I've gotten my point across. I must emphasize that I am not writing this as some flaming liberal college kid who thinks the world is out to get him. I worry that older readers may see this and think, "Oh, just another 20-something out to change the world". I write this as an irritated young adult and fellow member of this community, who has real issues with the current system and wishes to be heard.What pains me most is that there exist officers in the LBPD who I respect beyond measure, and it is disappointing that my view of the department as a whole has to be skewed and tainted by the behavior of only a portion of the force. I would like to end by again declaring my love and respect for this wonderful community I've been blessed to grow up in, and the hardworking men and women who do there best to hold it together. Yet my frustration stands.

-Fletcher Berryman


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