It is safe to say they don’t come to Disneyland to meet Mickey.
Teenagers in Mohawks and dog collars are crowding Tomorrowland. Groups of ghoulishly dressed youths - some drinking or smoking joints - roam the parking lots and hang out around the nearby businesses.
And while their appearance is not nearly as bizarre as that of a 6-foot mouse, they are shocking some tourists.
Since 1993, when the cost of the least expensive annual pass to the resort dropped from $195 to $99, Disneyland has become the favored Friday night hangout of hundreds of local teenage pass-holders, some of whom have been tied by Anaheim police to incidents of vandalism, petty theft and drug use around, and occasionally inside, the park.
The teenagers make up a tiny fraction of the tens of thousands of visitors to Disneyland on weekend nights, and park officials and Anaheim police say the resort is still, if not the Safest Place on Earth, certainly one of the most secure amusement parks around.
Yet with many youths favoring punklike regalia and some breaking the law, they stand out.
“They are just misdirected delinquents rather than gang members, but they are … everywhere,” said Anaheim Officer Dave Wiggins. “And when they have been drinking, they taunt tourists, they use spray paint, they throw bottles, camp out … it’s kind of turned the tourist area into a free-for-all.”
Disneyland takes action
At the request of Disneyland and local merchants, Wiggins has led two special enforcement operations since June to discourage the youths from breaking laws and harassing other visitors to the resort.
Many of the teenagers do nothing more heinous than hog benches in Tomorrowland, which, with its rock bands and space for dancing, has long been a hangout for young people. With Disneyland’s private security force constantly on the lookout for drug users or harassment of tourists, serious problems have been kept to a minimum.
The number of people arrested in Disneyland or its vast parking lots on charges of using or selling methamphetamine, LSD, speed or various forms of cocaine climbed from four in 1991 to 34 in 1995, then dipped to 29 last year and 10 through August. The number of arrests is tiny compared to the estimated 11 million annual visitors to the resort.
Nevertheless, Anaheim police and resort security have not hesitated to crack down on teenagers who intimidate tourists, even when the youths are not breaking any law.
Enforcing what police call a policy of zero tolerance on the streets around the resort, officers have cited or arrested dozens of youths since June for crimes as innocuous as jaywalking and as serious as drug dealing, possession and assault.
On three Friday nights this summer for which police made statistics available, 21 youths were arrested in a three-block area around Disneyland. Eight of the arrests were for possession of narcotics.
On Grad Night in June, police were called when several busloads of high school seniors pulling up to the resort were taunted by teens who threw bottles at the sides of the buses, according to police reports.
Police say most of the youths they detain around Disneyland call themselves “punks,” “rockers” or “Gothics,” and adopt pale makeup, black blush and lipstick and spooky attire - pointy shoes, Elvira dresses, velvet capes and dog collars.
“They seem to socialize together and hang out wherever they go, and I guess their favored spot is Disneyland,” said Anaheim police Lt. Dave Severson. “There’s nothing Disneyland can do about it.”
Police say most of the youths they encounter come from middle-class families throughout Orange County. Typically the youths change out of unassuming clothes and into what the teenagers call “extreme” attire after their parents drop them off at Disneyland.
The place to be
Teenagers interviewed at Disneyland say the resort has become such a popular hangout for Gothics and other groups that youths know better than to plan parties on Friday nights if they want to get a crowd.
“It’s a great way to get out of the house, because you ask your parents for a pass and they think, wow, Disneyland, what bad could happen there?” said a 15-year-old girl in a long velvet dress, white pancake makeup and blood-red lipstick, sipping vodka from a water bottle just outside Tomorrowland on a recent Friday night.
“But they don’t know there are all these hundreds of kids hanging out together just, like, ragging on this whole tourist scene.”
Disneyland spokesman John McClintock said that as the number of teenagers identifying themselves as Gothics and punks has climbed, so have complaints from ticket holders about the teenagers’ attire - leather jackets adorned with hundreds of safety pins, necklaces and bracelets made up of metal spikes.
McClintock also said that the situation has gotten severe enough this year for Disneyland officials to request a greater police presence in the area.
“I tell you, it’s something different,” said Heather Armand, 41, of Palm Springs, Calif. Visiting Disneyland with her husband and two children, Armand held tightly to her daughter’s hand as she walked quickly past a group of kids calling themselves Gothics.
“You don’t really expect it here because it’s a family place, and they’re not real good examples for young kids. It gives you that element of uneasiness I never had here before. … You just don’t feel safe anymore.”
In June, in what police say was a rare incident of drug dealing inside Disneyland, a 17-year-old from Lake Forest, Calif., was arrested just outside Sleeping Beauty’s Castle and charged with selling LSD.
That arrest came after Disneyland security spied the youth and asked the Anaheim Police Department’s street narcotics team to run an unusual undercover operation in the park. According to police reports, the youth had been selling LSD from the same spot to a regular clientele for more than two months.