Community Discusses City Park Security
On Tuesday, July 22, concerned citizens gathered beneath the first pavilion at the city park to take part in a discussion regarding a new community watch effort. Morgantown Police Chief Charlie Swiney was present to lead the discussion.
The security of the city park was a hot topic at the July City Council meeting. People living in the area exhibited an interest in forming a "neighborhood watch" type of patrol at the city park. Having struggled for years with drug dealers, foul language, and negative influences on younger children, the community is now prepared to step in and assist. Most of the problems in the park seem to stem from the presence of a group of savvy, younger criminals. One issue that has proven difficult to deal with is catching the bad element in the act. According to residents living near the park and the police the criminals alert one another to police activity on phones and other devices, and simply hide until law enforcement leaves.
Activities ranging from foul language to drug use have been reported at the park. Some residents claim their children are now afraid to use the park, and even some adults expressed that they felt threatened by the groups currently controlling the park.
"Community members should serve as the eyes and ears of the police department," said Swiney. Having a limited number of officers on patrol has at times enabled a multitude of criminal activity at the park. Swiney reminded everyone to not get involved with suspicious people or activity, but to phone dispatch immediately. It was also stated that people should be careful with media devices such as cameras or digital recorders, as assailants can grow very hostile when they know you are gathering media to turn in on them.
Ideas ranging from security cameras to stepped up police patrols were heard at the meeting. Most in attendance agreeing that citizen vigilance and reporting of criminal activity could do much to help alleviate the problems in the park.
"It's not Mayberry anymore: there are no Mayberry communities anymore. Let's face it, this is a big issue," said Bruce White, an attendee. Other guests brought on discussion regarding over-the-counter medication abuse and how parenting comes into play. Swiney stated that nobody has to wait for the national medication pickup day to dispose of any unused medications. The police department can dispose of those medications year round.
Loitering was also addressed. However, late-night loitering by underage teens may be a parenting issue. The crowd unanimously agreed that it is the parents' duty to be informed about the whereabouts of their children and that teens will often lie about their location. "You want to trust them, but sometimes you just can't," said Mayor Linda Keown.
A signup form was available for all who wanted to be a part and take action. Police Chief Swiney made it clear that the group would not be chartered or formed by the city or the Morgantown Police Department. Approximately 15 individuals signed up for yet unnamed citizens group.
Story and photos by Jeremy Hack, Beech Tree News