Cope Park, Marine Park and Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park will soon see adjusted hours and will feature new signs promoting the Park Watch Program.
Park Watch is similar to Neighborhood Watch programs, where people are encouraged to watch for and report criminal or suspicious activity.
The Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee approved the measure 5-2 Wednesday night. Members Jeff Wilson, Melissa Goldstein, Kate Walters, Odin Brudie and Gerry Landry voted in favor, members Dixie Hood and Chris Mertl were opposed.
After 30 days notice, those parks will be open from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, instead of 7 a.m. to midnight.
Parks and Recreation Director Brent Fischer said he hopes the change in hours will help alleviate issues at those parks, without harming legitimate park users.
The new signs include three phone numbers — 911, the non-emergency police line and park maintenance.
Hood asked if public phones would be provided for people to easily call in reports. Fischer said the department discussed it several years ago and it was decided it was unnecessary because of the number of people with cell phones. Blue boxes (basically phones that dial 911) were also considered but that would require phone line installation and a $500 per year, per box cost.
“We’re trying to give the police department really a tool where if there are issues they can be addressed much earlier,” Fischer said. “We haven’t had a problem with people coming outside of hours doing legal things. We’re not imposing the hours on people doing things like dog walking.”
Fischer said if people are in those parks after 10 p.m. for legitimate park purposes or for a public event it will be a non-issue. Legitimate park purposes could include neighborhood kids playing baseball late at night or other purposes the parks are intended for.
“It doesn’t make sense to me to have a time period to be open that will be partially or sort of up to the judgement of somebody to enforce,” Hood said. “It seems as if the police could follow up on anything that could be suspicious activity regardless of what time it was.”
Mertl wanted to see different hours for summer and winter. He said in summer it’s easy for people to be in parks past 10 p.m., while in winter it’s dark by 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. and most people aren’t using parks a few hours after sunset.
“People there 2-3 hours after sunset in the winter are probably not playing football,” Mertl said.
Some of the problems in those particular parks include vandalism and people sleeping in the parks. Fischer said the Cope Park bathrooms were vandalized again about three weeks ago and Adair-Kennedy was vandalized in the middle of the day on Saturday.
“It’s prevalent in almost every facility we have,” Fischer said. “It’s not a fix-all. Again, I have a tool in my box to make available to remedy some of the issues we have.”
Parks and Recreation Superintendent George Schaaf said they pay about $15,000 a year to have Goldbelt Security lock up the bathrooms at Cope Park and a few other sites.
“What we were finding is people were waiting ‘til Goldbelt had come though and stay in the picnic shelter overnight,” he said. “They were defecating in the woods behind the bathrooms, there was property damage in the picnic shelter this year. The police department does an outstanding job but they do have limited resources.”
The department doesn’t have the funds to have Goldbelt patrol the parks, nor is there enough staffing within the department to do so, Schaaf said.
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