SALEM - City Parks Commission members plan to ask city Police Chief Bob Floor for ideas about how to tackle vandalism, bad behavior and alleged drug activity in the parks.
The topics came up during the commission meeting Wednesday night, starting with an expense for $210 to repair a holding tank on a rented portable toilet which was vandalized by someone punching a hole in it.
"We've got beautiful parks and you have a bunch of hoodlums that just want to cause problems," commission Chairman John Panezott said.
Discussion also came up about possible drug use and drug dealing, maybe the use of cameras or looking into security.
Panezott vented his frustration, relaying how he's received complaints about graffiti and destruction and the mess from people not picking up after themselves. He was especially upset regarding the portable toilet being damaged because he was the one who pushed to have it installed near the playground near the maintenance building at Waterworth Memorial Park. The cost is $60 a month to rent it.
If anyone is caught vandalizing in the park, he said he wants them prosecuted. He said it's getting out of hand.
"If parents can't take care of it, we'll let the juvenile courts take care of it," he said.
Commission member Terry Hoopes said all they have to do is read the police reports and the parks are mentioned practically every day.
"There's always been mischief at the park, but it's getting more destructive," he said.
Panezott said it's not just kids leaving a mess. He helped clean up the park the day after the city fireworks and said he picked up "a dozen crappy diapers" and there were cans and other trash all over.
Parks Foreman Jim Grimm said a lot of kids hang out at Centennial Park and he talks to them and asks them to clean up a little after themselves.
Councilwoman Cyndi Baronzzi Dickey, who chairs the Parks Committee of city council, said she was approached by citizens about a drug problem in the park, referring to Centennial Park near the pool. She said some kids swimming were approached by people about buying drugs.
Dickey said another councilman talked to a police officer about the drug situation and was told the closed section of Oak Street was part of the problem, because police can't drive through and the people have lookouts and can see where the police cars are coming from.
Panezott said the parks commission has no power other than calling the police and the police force is down in numbers and is doing the best job it can. She wanted to know what they thought of a suggestion to reopen the street, but Parks Director Steve Faber said he thought they actually shut down some of the ways the people can get away by having the street closed. They only have a couple of options in a vehicle now. Before they had several options for getting away.
The road has been closed for many years, with safety being the reason it was closed in the first place because of speeding cars and wanting to protect pedestrians. Now they also have an area for bleachers for tennis matches.
Hoopes said it would be great if they could have some type of law enforcement presence in the park all the time, not necessarily police, but security with arrest powers. The problem would be the money to fund it. Dickey asked if they considered asking Salem-Perry Township Crime Watch to patrol the park, but Panezott said they need a presence with arrest powers.
Faber suggested using auxiliary police officers, which they all thought was a good idea. They had also talked about installing cameras, but those also carry an expense. They're going to talk to Floor to see what the commission can do, acknowledging that the police department is already doing what it can do with the personnel available and can't hang out at the park all the time.
Panezott said people who see something happening in the parks should call police right away and right down license plate numbers. Calls can be anonymous if they're worried about retribution.
Mary Ann Greier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org