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Patrols keep chaos at bay in dunes

February 18, 2002|By LAURA MITCHELL, Staff Writer

GLAMIS — Law enforcement at the Imperial Sand Dunes is becoming proactive, instead of reactive, and it's working to stop violence.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which oversees the dunes, is under pressure to control violence after a chaotic Thanksgiving holiday weekend where 190,000 visitors were patrolled by about 40 law enforcement officers.

That weekend one man was killed in a shooting, a BLM ranger was run over and officers issued a record number of citations.

For the Presidents' Day weekend, the BLM beefed up "pinch points" at the east and west entrances of an area known as The Hole.

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The Hole is at the base of Competition Hill and is known as the scene of the wildest parties and most problems in the dunes. Its terrain and bowl-shape make it difficult for law enforcement officers and medical staff to enter safely.

The pinch points effectively sent a zero-tolerance message, BLM spokesman Stephen Razo said. About 55 law enforcement officers patrolled The Hole on Saturday night.

Pinch points were used for the New Year's and Martin Luther King holiday weekends but for this weekend they included fencing to divert pickups and other less-agile vehicles through the points, under the scrutiny of officers watching who goes in and who comes out.

Made-for-sand vehicles such as dune buggies and quad-cycles could go around the pinch points without any problems. But it's the pickups officers are generally concerned with because much of the recent lawlessness is from a new crowd of young people who come to the dunes for the party, not the sand.

Uniformed officers used to monitor what's happening in The Hole but until this weekend have never completely had control of it.

Saturday night uniformed and undercover law enforcement officers entered and stayed in the hole, Razo said.

It put a damper on the party.

Three men were arrested by BLM special undercover agents Saturday night in The Hole for possessing drugs and trying to incite a riot, Razo said.

The men allegedly threw sand-filled cans and yelled at officers. The arresting officers found hallucinogenic mushrooms, marijuana, cocaine and ecstasy on the men, he said.

Razo said the suspects had a large amount of mushrooms but did not know if the suspects were selling the mushrooms.

One of the suspects is a known member of a Los Angeles gang. Another suspect is a parolee, he said.

An estimated 108,000 people visited the dunes this weekend, Razo said.

As of Sunday, there were 234 law enforcement incidents including 20 arrests. The majority of arrests, 11, were for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, he said.

The rest of the incidents were for typical dunes citations such as safety and open-container violations, Razo said.

There were also 46 medical emergencies, but as of Sunday, no fatalities, he said.

>> Staff Writer Laura Mitchell can be reached at 337-3452 or lauramitchell9@yahoo.com

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