Police putting the brakes on boulevard cruising

  Jonathan T. Lovitt


  USA Today


  Page 07A

  (Copyright 1996)


  HOLLYWOOD -- Johnny Zermeno plunks himself down on the curb beside the

  sidewalk stars of Rock Hudson and Lucille Ball. He and three friends are ordered

  to put their hands behind their heads. One by one they stand to be frisked, and

  their Honda is searched for weapons and drugs.


  Twenty minutes later, Zermeno is fined $22.50 for failing to wear his seat belt,

  and he and his pals are sent on their way.


  So much for cruising famed Hollywood Boulevard to meet some girls.


  These are new weekend nights on the boulevard, where the California Highway

  Patrol and Los Angeles Police have stepped up patrols. For eight more

  weekends, officers will be out in force to curb crime and keep traffic moving.


  It's one part of a plan to remake the Tinseltown strip.


  ``We're going to hammer them hard, cite everyone,'' highway patrol officer

  Temujin Jones says. ``Tail lights, seat belts. Lots of fix-it tickets and impounding

  a lot of vehicles and taking them off to jail in some cases.''


  By 11 p.m. Friday, the first night of patrols, only a trickle of the usual traffic was

  cruising up and down the strip. By weekend's end, 605 traffic citations had been

  issued and 35 vehicles impounded. Twenty three people were arrested -- most for

  misdemeanors, one for possessing an illegal gun.


  ``It's not like we're gangbangers,'' Zermeno, 18, says. ``I'll come back next week

  but let somebody else drive.''


  Local businesses hope the cruisers will go elsewhere. They want to return

  Hollywood Boulevard to the locals and tourists who flock here for the glitzy

  theaters, star-lined streets and movie memorabilia shops.


  Cruisers, store owners say, make terrible customers. They jam traffic, take

  parking and rarely buy anything. And the store owners say the boisterous cruisers

  scare off their patrons.


  ``It's gotten so bad that my customers don't want to eat here at night,'' says

  Michael Ferras, manager of Joseph's Cafe. ``This is great, but I'm just worried

  they'll come back when the police leave.''


  State and city police say they'll reassess their patrols after the nine-week trial. ``If

  it works, it may be that it will continue longer,'' highway patrol spokeswoman

  Michelle Reddick says.


  At Musso & Frank Grill, Sharon Gless and Tyne Daly, better known as TV

  detectives Cagney and Lacey, were blissfully unaware of all the police activity

  outside. They said the weekend cruising wouldn't stop them from dining at the

  77-year-old grill famous for serving martinis and filet mignon to the likes of

  Charlie Chaplin and Orson Welles.


  ``Most people confuse me for a cop,'' anyway, Daly says.


  Adds Gless: ``I've been coming here since I was a little girl. I'd never stop

  coming down here.''


  Musso maitre d' Philip Cano encourages the police help.


  ``We're all for it, especially for the small businesses. It would be nice to see

  Hollywood the way it used to be,'' Cano says.


  Even some of the police have a soft spot for cruisers.


  ``We don't want to stop the good kids from coming down here and having a good

  time,'' police Lt. Anthony Alba says.


  ``I understand. I used to come here and cruise my 1958 Pontiac wagon with my

  friends when I was a kid. But we want the undesirables out of here: the gang

  members and bullies who ruin it for the rest.''

  PHOTO, B/W, Bob Riha Jr., USA TODAY ; Caption: Frisk: Highway patrol

  officers pat down a youth, later released, after pulling over a car Friday in