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Report recommends KC close three crime-prone Northeast parks at night

Updated: 2013-04-16T02:49:25Z

By MIKE HENDRICKS

The Kansas City Star

Cliche or not, within Budd Park’s 26 acres, things truly are as different as night and day.

When the sun is up, Kansas City’s second-oldest park is an emerald oasis for taking a stroll, having a picnic or playing tennis.

But after dark, it can be scary, neighbors say. Drug deals, prostitution and flashes of violence are all too common. In January, two bullet-riddled bodies were found in a car just outside the park at St. John and Denver avenues in the Northeast area.

Last year, the city Department of Parks and Recreation added lighting, but some residents say the city needs to do more to make the area less dangerous.

“There’s a lot of activity at night that we want to discourage,” said Katie Greer, president of the Indian Mound Neighborhood Association. “Problems like that go on around all the Northeast parks.”

One solution under consideration is closing the park at night. Currently, all city parks are open around the clock.

But in a new report, a parks safety task force recommends that Budd and two other parks be off-limits after dark. That would cut down on street crime, graffiti, illegal dumping and other problems.

The idea is that with enforceable time limits, police would have more power to tell people to move along if officers suspect they might be up to no good. Currently, police must wait until they see someone tagging park property with spray paint or other illegal activity.

If the City Council agrees with the report and sets opening and closing hours, it would set a precedent for the 121-year-old parks system, parks Superintendent Forest Decker said.

“It would be the first time, to my knowledge,” Decker said. “Our parks always have been open 24 hours a day.”

The other parks under consideration for shortened hours are also in the Northeast area: Independence Plaza, at Independence Boulevard and Park Avenue, and Kessler Park, which would also mean closing Cliff Drive to traffic during certain hours. That would cut down on illegal dumping and perhaps reduce food giveaways to people living in homeless camps that are scattered through the woods.

The city is working on a separate, controversial ordinance to cut down on food deliveries, which they say enable the camps to flourish.

The report did not recommend a time at which to close the parks, leaving that up to the Board of Parks and Recreation Commissioners and City Council. But Greer said many other cities close their parks from roughly sundown to sun-up.

“Kansas City, I feel, is kind of an anomaly for not closing their parks,” she said.

The recommendations grew out of an effort pushed by Councilman Scott Wagner, who asked the Police Department to identify the 10 parks out of the 220-park system that had the greatest number of calls for service.

Two were quickly dropped from list because most of the calls to those parks were for traffic tickets. The remaining eight, all south of the Missouri River, got a hard look from a committee comprised of Wagner, neighborhood leaders, police and parks officials.

Each park had unique problems.

At Swope Park, at East Meyer Boulevard and Swope Parkway, most police calls were for along the park’s perimeter. Within its boundaries, the statistics showed a problem with car break-ins at Lakeside Nature Center. Decker said his department was addressing that by adding security cameras and cutting native grasses that made it difficult to monitor activity.

Car break-ins have also been a problem near the tennis courts off of Swope Parkway in Brush Creek Park. The report recommends better lighting and cutting tree limbs. Adding playground equipment would bring more people to the area and make it feel less isolated, the report said.

At Minor Park, at Red Bridge Road and Holmes Road, better lighting and improved sightlines were also recommended.

Tower Park at 75th Street and Holmes Road doesn’t have a crime problem so much as a problem with illegal parking and noise. To address that, the report suggested erecting barriers to keep vehicles from jumping curbs.

Martin Luther King Jr. Square at Swope Parkway & Woodland Avenue was on the list because of traffic issues, but no changes were suggested.

The recommendation for limiting hours at the three Northeast parks is now in the hands of the park board, which has met once since receiving the final report.

Wagner said he wants to give the board time to mull the recommendations, but he will not allow the closing issue to die. If the Parks Department fails to support the suggestions, he would ask the council to act on its own.

“I know this is getting into new territory for the Parks Department, but inaction is not an issue.” he said.

To reach Mike Hendricks, call 816-234-4738 or send email to mhendricks@kcstar.com.

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