Dodger Stadium's security enhanced
LOS ANGELES -- Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt and L.A. police chief Charlie Beck unveiled new security measures at Dodger Stadium on Thursday, two weeks after the brutal beating of San Francisco Giants fan Bryan Stow on Opening Day.
Calling it a response to a "crisis in confidence," Beck deployed a significant and highly visible police presence in and around the stadium before Thursday's game against the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Dodgers have agreed to pay for the increased police mobilization, and it will remain in place for at least this homestand. A Dodgers official said the cost of the added security presence was impossible to measure, but that the organization will spend "whatever it takes" to help fans feel safe.
"Dodger Stadium has become safer over the last few years, just as all of L.A. has become safer over the last few years," Beck said. "But fan perception is important. Your perception of crime is at least as important as the reality of crime, because that's what affects your behavior.
"It isn't necessarily the reality of crime, and this is in no way downplaying reality of what happened to Bryan [Stow].
"The reality is that Dodger Stadium is safer. But that is not the perception. So we are going to make the perception match the reality."
Beck said he will evaluate whether the size of the police presence at Dodgers home games needs to be increased or decreased after the series. LAPD spokesman Lt. Andrew Neiman could not say how large the police force deployed to Thursday's game was, but called it "significant."
Beck had to pause during his opening remarks because a police helicopter flew overhead. There was a noticeable presence of officers on motorcycles, horseback and in patrol cars in and around the stadium.
"If you're threatening, if you're making comments that could lead to violence, you're going to get ejected," Beck said.
The increased security presence was immediately noticeable to fans who attended Thursday's game.
"I think it was a little crazy with all the police," said Dodgers fan Johnny De La Cruz, who attended the game with his wife and three young sons. "They made me lift up my shirt on the way in. But it's definitely worth it after what happened to [Stow]. It's better to be safe than sorry."
De La Cruz, 28, said he'd been to a handful of Dodgers games over the years and the atmosphere at Thursday's game was noticeably calmer.
"I used to always hear a lot of profanity," he said. "Dodger fans are pretty die-hard. They kind of remind me of Raider fans. But tonight the fans were pretty quiet. Pretty mellow."
After an initially sluggish, much-maligned response to the Stow incident, McCourt promised the organization will maintain a long-term commitment to security issues that will serve as a model for stadiums across the country.
"One thing that is permanent for sure is the commitment to take what is unarguably a tragic, heartbreaking event and turn it into something very, very positive," he said.
"The commitment is clear and firm that we are going to move forward and make sure that the legacy of this event are permanent changes to fan behavior at Dodger Stadium and hopefully at stadiums throughout the country."
After the game, Deputy Chief Jose Perez of the Central Bureau Department said 38 people were cited for misdemeanor infractions on Thursday night. On Opening Day, when Stow was attacked, the LAPD cited 130 people for similar infractions, about twice the rate when adjusted by crowd size (approximately 34,000 on Thursday; 56,000 on Opening Day).
McCourt said the incident has negatively affected ticket sales, but he's confident he can restore fan confidence.
"Certainly this attention, the safety at a stadium -- and again it's a perception thing as chief Beck said -- it certainly doesn't help ticket sales," he said. "What will help ticket sales is making sure this venue is the safest venue in America."
Thursday night's announced attendance was 34,288, but the crowd was sparse.
Cardinals fan Max Belz, 26, said he felt "a lot safer" than the previous few times he attended a game at Dodger Stadium.
"I didn't get beat up the other times I was here, but there was a lot of hostility," Belz said. "My 13-year-old cousin and I came to a couple games here last year and sat in the right-field pavilion. People were yelling at us, using profanity, throwing trash and peanut shells at us.
"It was very different [Thursday]. From the minute I entered the parking lot it was a lot more peaceful. It was nice to be able to watch a game without having your guard up the whole time. To tell you the truth, I probably could've even heckled Dodger fans tonight and not been too worried."
While fans seemed to appreciate the extra security measures in place, most felt it was a bit of an overkill and wondered how long the security would be at this level.
"I guess I'm glad they're fixing it," Belz said. "But I hope in the future they don't have to use every cop in the city to do it."
Last week, McCourt announced he had hired former LAPD Chief William Bratton and his private security consulting firm, Kroll & Associates, to study the organization's current procedures and make recommendations to help improve them.
Most of those recommendations will be implemented over the next few months and years, but Bratton's most immediate suggestion to increase the lighting in the Dodger Stadium parking lot has already been addressed.
"There's actually about 43 stanchions that have been added to the existing lighting," Bratton said.
"The whole idea here is increased vigilance. ... What we're also trying to improve is ability for a fan who feels that they are being abused by the boorish behavior of others, to improve the ability to report that and have it immediately responded to and dealt with effectively.
"Some of the concerns as I've been hearing them, is that what was reported was oftentimes not dealt with effectively from the fans' perspective."
Beck said the LAPD has received hundreds of tips during its investigation of the beating, but the suspects remain at large. Police released a new composite sketch of the men on Thursday, which provides more detail on the facial features of one of the suspects.
The reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the two suspects remains at $150,000.
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When asked whether the Dodgers would be putting the composite sketch of the two suspects up on the video board at Thursday's game, McCourt said he wasn't sure if that option had been discussed.
"I will talk about it, but I think it needs to be balanced with the fact that people are coming to the ballpark tonight with their families and friends to enjoy themselves too," he said.
"We want to keep in mind that this is a baseball game that we're playing here tonight. But if there's anything that this organization can do, including putting those images up on the big screen, we're going to do it."
The Dodgers did not show the sketches on the video board during Thursday's game.
On Wednesday the Dodgers announced they had eliminated a half-price alcohol promotion at several upcoming home games. However, McCourt was noncommittal Thursday about whether the team would make further changes to its alcohol policy.
"It's a privilege to be able to come to a ballpark and, if you're of age, have a beer and a dog," he said. "It's really the abuse of that privilege that's the problem. It's not serving the beer."
He said the team has hired a group of behavioral experts who will be stationed around the ballpark to observe fan behavior and alcohol consumption. Those experts will have a "friendly conversation" with someone who has had too much to drink.
"We're going to be proactive in that regard, but at the end of the day, the idea of a beer and a dog is something that's been around at baseball parks for a long time," he said. "It shouldn't be abused, and it's not going to be tolerated here."
Meanwhile, Stow remains in a medically induced coma at County USC Medical Center. Hospital spokeswoman Rosa Saca said Thursday night Stow is being slowly weaned off the medication that was keeping him in the coma.
"The next two or three days are going to be critical," she said. "He will be observed very closely because the doctors want to see how his body reacts."
In a post on a website established by the Stow family, his sister Erin Stow said his ventilator was removed and a tracheostomy tube was put into his neck Thursday night, "which should make him more comfortable."
Ramona Shelburne is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.