Over 300 young people enjoyed the hospitality of Pacific Park on Santa Monica Pier during the PALapalooza event sponsored by the Police Department’s Police Activities League (PAL) on Tuesday evening, June 26. The third annual event was this year expanded to include PAL chapters from the state-wide organization of PALs, and so over 100 youths from Devonshire, Santa Clarita and other areas as well as local youths had an evening of amusement park rides and food.
PAL is a nationwide concept, once known as the Police Athletic League – in which old movies show kids brought in from the streets and trained as boxers to escape “their environment” – that has evolved into a youth program that includes educational, cultural, and athletic activities. In Santa Monica, the program serves more than 1,600 boys and girls aged 6 to 17 years who are Santa Monica residents or go to school in Santa Monica. The PAL Youth Office and facilities are located at 1401 Olympic Boulevard in Santa Monica (310/458-8988) at Memorial Park; boxing and karate programs are offered at Virginia Avenue Park, and the group makes off-site field trips as well.
On June 26, Pacific Park opened its doors and stood the fare for the evening, and the Police Department brought out all of its resources. The Special Entry Team officers (SET; other jurisdictions call it SWAT) were there with the team’s Humvee, the motorcycle officers and their BMWs, the bicycle officers, and patrol cars old and new.
And the animals – the SMPD Mounted Unit was on hand with the horses, and the canines were represented by Buddy, a Belgian Malinois “who goes to look for people we can’t find and also finds explosives,” according to his handler, Officer Ken Sickles.
In addition to a current patrol car, there was a classic 1964 black-and-white Plymouth Savoy cruiser, tended to by Officer Greg Barbiera, who explained that SMPD cars were black-and-whites until the 1970s before going to the white and blue format that has now given way to a return to black and white.
“Pacific Park paid for the whole evening,” said Patty Loggins-Tazi, director of Santa Monica PAL, as she checked in the various PAL groups. And the park featured toys of its own. Its Crazy Cruiser ride, debuting this season, is a North American first, featuring, as the park describes it, “a pair of bikes that whirl 360 degrees [that’s overhead, as in upside down, not spinning horizontally] and has challengers pedaling fast and furious to the finish while competing for cool Pacific Park prizes.” And of course, there is as always the world’s first solar-powered Ferris wheel which “soars nine stories high and lifts riders more than 150 feet above the ocean.”
But toys aside, PALpalooza was really about the young people. SMPD officer Danny Salerno, who volunteers his time and money to the PAL program, was watching his own son riding the bumper cars. As if in testament to the PAL program’s success in Santa Monica, he commented, “Several of our [department’s] officers were PAL kids, you know.”
For further information on Santa Monica PAL, go to smgov.net/hsd/pal.htm; Pacific Park is at pacpark.com.