Employee of Downtown San Pedro’s Community Safety Ambassador Program Threatens Patron, 71
By Arthur R. Vinsel
Devante Head is one of those young yellow-shirted bicycle patrolmen paid by the Downtown San Pedro Property Owners Business Improvement District (PBID) to reassure folks that central San Pedro is safe for shoppers and diners.
He lost sight of that PBID mission Friday, Aug. 31, when the outdoor Farmer’s Market and The 99 Cents Only Store(cq trademark) were extra busy with Social Security recipients who got checks early before Labor Day Weekend.
Head and his partner were behind me in a 99-Cent Store checkout line after going on duty at 11 a.m., buying candy.
My items were being rung up but the under-counter niche for empty hand baskets was full. So I had to reach awkwardly around him, standing close behind me, to set my basket down.
Never was I conscious of bumping or even brushing him.
“Sir…..Sir!…..SIR!!!,” someone suddenly yelled.
I turned around to find him glaring sternly, but with a smug little smile and his chin raised coyly like an English governess chiding an errant tot.
“You,” he accused softly, “bumped into me. And, you didn’t even excuse yourself!”
I told him I did not notice any bodily contact, but regretted it if so. I thought that covered it. Apparently not.
“Did you see that? Did you see that?” he demanded loudly, turning to his yellow PBID-shirted partner, who had seemed oblivious. “This dude bumped into me and he didn’t even excuse himself!”
At least he saw me as a dude and not an Old Fart. Friends claim that at 71 years of age, I barely look 50.
“Give it a rest,” I said evenly, without eye contact. But our downtown peace monitor continued to rant.
I was annoyed, but neither frightened nor intimidated by his junior high caliber tantrum, which became louder, as more customers’ heads turned.
“Don’t let that fancy uniform go to your head,” I said, turning to face him. That blew the lid off. The PBID kid thought I was accusing him of working at the 99-cent Store.
“I don’t work here! I don’t work in this store!” he shouted, grabbing a handful of his official PBID shirt at the waist and starting to pull it up and perhaps over his head.
“This uniform don’t mean NOTHIN!…I can take this uniform OFF!,” he snarled, giving me a ferocious, wide-open Muhammad Ali-style “stink eye” stare as though he would momentarily take me outside for a lesson in respect. (Head is not a big kid, by the way.)
Customers in nearby aisles were looking alarmed and our checker was quite nervous, on the verge of calling for their house security.
Head then straightened up his disheveled uniform and I turned my back on him and left, headed for the downtown PBID office at the Chamber of Commerce to make a report.
He had no idea I knew anything about PBID, nor its function in enhancing downtown as a safe, appealing destination for seniors and other citizens.
Stopping at the Farmer’s Market, I continued on and lo and behold, who do I encounter again but the same two, pedaling their bikes lazily up Sixth Street, keeping peace and order.
“Hey, can you guys direct me to the PBID Office?” I called, just to get their attention. His buddy was quite courteous and helpful, not recognizing me. Head did. He opened his mouth as though to say “Oh —-!,” then looked glum and worried.
Their supervisor, Security Director Glen Danielsen was not in, the Chamber ladies said, so I gave them all the details. I had a call waiting by the time I got home a few blocks away.
“I understand you had some sort of ‘collision’ with one of my officers,” said Danielsen, who had already interrogated the two.
I said collision wasn’t the word for it, nor was ‘offlcer’ the word for his staff member who’d confronted me.
“Well, no,” he said with a nervous laugh. “They’re not officers, just employees.”
Danielsen and the six men altogether who are PBID “Community Safety Ambassadors” work for a Long Beach firm named Universal Protection Service and just contracted with PBID about two years ago.
He added that their firm runs character and criminal record checks on all new hires. But he is not the staff member who handles that. Universal Protection is on Golden Shore Drive and employes 700 personnel.
Duties of the San Pedro six here are riding bikes or piloting Segway two-wheeled power scooters, assisting citizens with directions to shops, cafes or entertainment and imbuing visitors with a sense of safety, well-being, order, peace and friendliness.
San Pedro merchants for years have battled largely unfounded rumors that downtown is unsafe, losing business to larger suburbs and malls, despite its own charming enclave of restaurants, shops and growing arts scene.
The PBID and Arts, Culture and Entertainment (ACE) District have made steady progress and suddenly the historic old seaport has become a real, new destination.
Danielsen said a few days ago that Head wanted to call and apologize, but we missed connections until Monday when I called the main office. Universal Protection Manager Bradley Metcalfe himself got the call and a briefing on why.
He called back later.
“I have Devante Head right here with me and he’d like to speak to you,” said Metcalfe.
“Um, I want to apologize and hope there are no hard feelings…”he said. I started to ask what in the world set him off like that, but the telephone was abruptly taken away from him.
The Boss came back on the line and said he hoped now in light of an apology we could just put this all behind us, asking if that might be a possibility?
“I’m just a contributing reporter,” I explained. “Editors and Publishers make those decisions.”