Securing the Park

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This weekend, Ferguson residents hoping to enjoy our city pool were treated to fights and some gunfire. As reported by KMOV, gunfire was exchanged between two vehicles in the park. The city responded by restricting access to the pool to Ferguson residents through the weekend. While this was fine as an immediate response, it ignores a long term problem which the city has ignored.

January-Wabash actually faces two problems. The first is the use of the pool by groups whose behavior is unsuitable for a family oriented park. This happened last year, as widely promoted pool parties brought in crowds, and bad behavior. The city must implement policies to prevent this, both during open swim and private parties. First, open swim must be limited to residents and their guests, with a limit on the number of guests per resident. Fighting and other disruption must be dealt with swiftly, before it escalates into an unmanageable situation. For private parties, enforced limits on the number of attendees for small rentals, and mandatory security provided by Ferguson police overtime paid for by those hosting larger events, must be a contractual requirement for every rental.

Unfortunately, the pool isn’t the only trouble spot in the park. The parking and fishing areas, particularly along January, are constantly marred by inappropriate, and often unlawful, behavior. The city has a longstanding ban on drinking in the park. One need only to look in the trash cans along the lake to see that the ban has not been enforced, and the result has been frequent behavior inconsistent with a public park, including fights and public urination. In the past few years, marijuana use has also become common at the park. Despite a substantial investment in playground equipment, our city’s largest park is a terrible place to bring children.

The first step in reclaiming our park for the resident families who wish to enjoy it is strict enforcement of ordinances pertaining to park use. This will require a police officer in the park, especially during busy times, either on a bicycle or on foot – NOT sitting in a car watching the party. In most cases, existing ordinances suffice to restore order, but there is one notable exception: With the legalization of recreational marijuana, it is presently legal to smoke marijuana in the park. While state law does not prohibit public consumption as it does in some states, it does not prohibit local governments from imposing restrictions. Council needs to immediately update our ordinances to prohibit the consumption of marijuana in places where the consumption of alcoholic beverages is prohibited.

Our city parks are an important factor in quality of life for city residents. The city must act promptly to remedy this situation. It is within the power of the council and city manager to completely reverse this crisis in a few weeks. There is no reason we should still be having this conversation in July.