Neighbors say skate park woes persist

Sean C. Morgan

After complaining to the City Council on Nov. 8 about pervasive foul language and other alleged offenses by some users of the city’s skate park, neighbor Dan Kilpatrick said things improved for a couple of weeks and then returned to usual.

In 2005, the year the park opened, the Sweet Home Police Department handled 49 calls there, said Police Chief Bob Burford. In 2010, they responded to the park 23 times, and in 2011, 29 times. Several of the complaints have been in regard to skaters’ behavior after dark, around closing time, which is one hour after sunset or, during the summer, 9 p.m.

“We’ve been monitoring out there,” said City Manager Craig Martin.

The city has seen improvement in the number of problems with graffiti and that sort of activity, said Carol Lewis, Community Development Director.

City personnel have talked with park users since the initial complaint to the City Council, Martin said. Patrons there have told the city it wasn’t their groups causing the problems, but rather other groups from out of town.

“If you talk about a specific activity, that group will tell you it’s another group,” Lewis said. The users change every single day, and different people are there day in and day out, although she knows that some individuals are there more than others.

“When spring comes around we’ll be monitoring it again,” Martin said.

Just like the School District, which owns the skate park property, the city can enforce a rule against profanity, he said. “We could ask them to leave the premises for violating the rules.”

The city has a flyer outlining rules and reminders about behavior, he said, and it will distribute those in the future.

The city will encourage park patrons to use the facility appropriately, Martin said. “We’ll continue to work with the patrons that are there. We’ll continue to monitor it and continue to monitor the police log.”

Language is one of the main complaints about the park, Lewis said, but it’s also a societal problem.

City personnel are not available to be at the park in the evenings or weekends, which limits their ability to deal with problems, she said.

“Unless you’re standing there every moment to say, ‘cool it,’ people are going to talk the way they talk,” she said. “It’s not a staffed facility, so it really does depend on the neighbors calling it in to somebody.”

Even then it’s going to be hit and miss, Lewis said, and the city simply would like to educate users.

“You walk away, they’re going to be the same as they were the first time,” she said.

Martin also said the profanity issue is a difficult one.

“We have it signed no profanity, but that’s going to be tough issue to enforce,” he said.

Although city officials have not been discussing closing the park, the city can close the park, Martin said. It did close the park briefly over behavior issues soon after it opened.

City officials are seeing signs of improvement.

“We’re seeing a lot more use by youngsters with parents, and that’s great,” Lewis said. They’re the ones that can say something to disrespectful users. On the other hand, they may be the ones the disrespectful users are telling to “bug off.”

“I’d like to teach respect to a lot of people,” she said. “I’ve never found a resolution for it. I don’t know how you teach respect. They don’t respect their neighbors, but lack of respect isn’t illegal.”

Short of closing the park, which is what neighbors appear to want, there will be illegal and disrespectful activities just like anywhere people congregate, Lewis said.

Dan Kilpatrick, who has lived across from the location of the skate park at 1980 Long St. for 20 years, said he just wants it locked when it closes. He suggested allowing a volunteer to lock it.

“Let my neighbor lady do it,” he said.

He outlined several problems at the park.

“I just see too many drug deals go down,” Kilpatrick said. “A car pulls up, kids run out. It leaves, and they’re back in the park with a baggie.”

The police came after one call and searched one of the patrons, Kilpatrick said, but he had passed the baggie to a buddy. When the police left, they left; and they haven’t been back.

The place is littered with cigarette butts and “rubbers” too, Kilpatrick said.

“Who in their right mind wants to see their kids play over there? Some of the good kids will clean it up, but they get pushed out by the bad kids.”

The city locked the park at night during the first year, Martin said. The Sankey Park caretaker locked it nightly.

He would rather see neighbors call the police rather than locking the park, Martin said. There have been three or four calls since November, and all but one have been within a minute or two of the park closing time.

“Is locking it at night going to address their concerns?” Martin said. “For the most part, we’ve had limited problems with the skate park considering the usage.”

And the city does have similar problems at its other parks, he said. Mostly, it’s a matter of educating the patrons and letting them know when the park is closed.

Kilpatrick said locking the park would reduce costs, from picking up trash to police officers responding.

On another train of thought, Kilpatrick suggests the city diversify the park and bring more people in for other activities. On the back side, he believes there is enough room to allow a basketball hoop and key. A guy like him could go over there and shoot hoops. That might help improve the park.

The problems have been escalating since it opened, he said. “There’s nothing there but trouble in any city I’ve ever seen one (a skate park).”

Justin Clark catches some air at the skate park.