Did HBPD Go Overboard in Enforcing the U.S. Open of Surfing?

The only alcohol at the U.S. Open.
The only alcohol at the U.S. Open.
John Gilhooley

As previously reported in our 2014 U.S. Open of Surfing cover story, Huntington Beach significantly scaled back the event, barring music, alcohol, vendors and side activities while upping police manpower and enforcement--changes that reflect an overall attempt to clean up downtown. Now that the event is over, it's clear that the Huntington Beach Police Department took the effort to heart.

Of the 80 thousand attendees (down from the record 500 thousand in 2011), 152 people were booked into the city jail, with an additional 1,836 misdemeanor, infraction or civil nuisance citations and 2,567 parking tickets being issued at the nine-day-event, according to the Orange County Register.

Social media appears to have played a big role in policing the event. A 16-year-old boy was arrested July 25 for making "terrorist threats" against the U.S. Open on an unnamed social media network.

Police Captain Russ Reinhart live-tweeted arrests, writing in one instance "Sometimes even the captain needs to take someone to jail. No drinking on the beach," with photos of the Captain himself handcuffing a guy with a backpack full of beer.

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In another Twitter exchange, a man uploaded a picture of himself skateboarding with a beer. HBPD responded with "We have your jail cell reservation."

Attendees took to social media to voice their complaints and praise, as well. On the U.S. Open Facebook page, some complained about the event's drastic cutbacks.

"I would like to see things as they were the last few years. Bring back the concert and vendors. The only thing that HB needed to change from 2013 is increase the security. It isn't right or cool to change things because of a couple assholes," one woman said.

Overall, however, people seem to prefer the police's big brother approach to this year's event, with one Facebook commenter claiming that the event "is so much better without all the riff-raff."

Admins behind the U.S. Open Facebook page praised HBPD, giving them a special thank you in a status update.

Huntington Beach seems to have accomplished what they set out to do: scale back the event and police the hell out of it. The question arises, however, at what point does enforcement become draconian?

Changes to the U.S. Open reflect changes to downtown Huntington Beach overall, and the narrative of cops vs. bros is a familiar one. Will there be a repeat of 1996's Fourth of July, where cops arrested 500 people for drinking on their own property?

When police are threatening to arrest skateboarders with beer over Twitter, we should probably worry.

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