Huntington Beach city officials and residents have repeatedly said that the downtown suffers from an alcohol-use problem.

At Thursday's Downtown Task Force meeting, Police Chief Ken Small backed up the contention with statistics.

A total of 1,915 incidents were reported in the area from Jan. 1 to Aug. 31, according to Small.

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Of those reports, police arrested 550 people for alcohol-related violations such as public drunkenness, driving under the influence and having an open container. On average, downtown accounts for 18% of the city's total arrests, Small said, adding that the area makes up only about 2% of the city's geography.

"It certainly gives reinforcement to the idea that we have a problem with alcohol downtown," Mayor Connie Boardman said. "It's pretty, pretty clear."

Residents have long complained that there aren't enough officers in the area to control the situation. Small explained that solving the problem isn't as simple as moving a few officers around from different areas.

"We're the Huntington Beach Police Department, not the downtown Huntington Beach Police Department," Small said as he pointed to a map that highlighted the area. "When we keep getting asked, 'Why can't you put more people downtown?' it's because we have to police the whole city, not [just] the little dot."

Police Capt. Russell Reinhart said a reduced staff doesn't help. He said the department had 193 sworn officers as of this summer, but with the recovering economy and a new budget that allows for several new officers to be hired, he expects staffing to reach 212 people by next summer.

In comparison, Huntington Beach had 237 officers four years ago, before the full effect of the economic downturn was felt, Reinhart said.

The Police Department deploys four officers to work foot patrol downtown on weekend nights while two officers patrol on foot weekday nights. Reinhart said there used to be two officers in the area during the day for the entire week, but that changed with the budget cuts.

"With this whole city and when these guys are busy, we can't always pull somebody else [to the downtown area] because that leaves someplace else in the city empty," he said. "It's a matter of balancing priorities, calls for service. And the big thing is we have an entire city to patrol. We cannot put all our officers downtown."