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Parks not always playgrounds

Mon., Aug. 27, 2007

Easily accessible 24 hours a day to anyone who wants to enjoy them, parks have always played host to a few people intent on having a little too much fun.

Noisy after-hours use, vandalism, drinking and drug abuse can keep a park’s neighbors and caretakers awake at night. But in response to recent complaints, police and parks officials in Spokane Valley have been taking extra measures to cut back on nuisances where people go to play.

“It’s not a huge problem, but it’s something that we want to nip in the bud,” said Spokane Valley Parks Director Mike Jackson.

After calls from a resident on 24th Avenue across from Terrace View Park, Jackson met with Police Chief Rick Van Leuven, and officers have been instructed to patrol the parks when they have time. Park patrols by SCOPE volunteers also have been established. Rules were posted in the parks in May, and the small notices also have a 24-hour number people can call with urgent parks concerns they feel might not merit 911.

Across the fence from one of the last holes on an impromptu Frisbee golf course at Terrace View is the house in which Mike Dooley and his family have lived for the 22 years.

“We kind of keep an eye on the park,” said Dooley. He said he enjoys living next to the park and swimming pool, daytime noise and all. The commotion at night or people damaging his sprinklers, climbing on his roof and breaking into his backyard to retrieve Frisbees, though, has prompted him to call police several times.

While mowing the lawn recently he found someone’s car keys that had been thrown over the fence during a brawl in the parking lot the night before. Another time, he reported teenagers climbing over the pool’s fence for an after-hours swim and attempting to break into the pool house.

“There has been, in the last year, a lot of activity in this park,” he said.

Last year at Valley Mission Park, a suspicious fire destroyed several stables. The year before, Splashdown Water Park in Valley Mission was badly vandalized.

Construction soon will start on new water features at all three Spokane Valley pools. That project and additional upgrades to Valley Mission Park will increase lighting there, Jackson said.

This year, the log of damage in Spokane Valley parks hasn’t included items worse than a broken restroom door or picnic tables, but “even one dollar spent on vandalism is a dollar you could spend on something else,” he said.

At Terrace View and its pool this July, police contacted people after hours four times and arrested a minor who police said possessed alcohol.

“We’ve warned juveniles, we’ve contacted parents,” Van Leuven said.

Jackson has even hired a private security firm to help keep an eye on things on the parks department’s dime. A seasonal employee helps look after parks on weekends, and the department has considered creating a full-time law enforcement position.

In the city of Spokane, 20 percent to 30 percent of the parks maintenance budget goes for security, said Parks Operations Manager Tony Madunich.

That includes parks department employees and private contractors hired to keep an eye on the city’s 4,000 acres of parkland.

“That simply eliminates a lot of problems by telling people they’re not supposed to be there after 11 p.m.,” he said

The frequency of graffiti, vandalism and late-night hijinks in Spokane parks is typical of previous years, Madunich said, as are efforts to control them.

The parks also are watched by volunteers from the COPS program in Spokane, as they are by SCOPE in Spokane Valley.

In addition to lights installed at Edgecliff Park last year, SCOPE volunteers were asked recently to begin targeted patrols there.

They haven’t encountered a lot of problems, said SCOPE Edgecliff President Bill Dore, but they do have to run a few people off from time to time at night.

“They’re not playing checkers,” he said.


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