Opinion: Private Guards in Parks a Dubious Solution

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My dogs and I are parks peeps. Favorite haunts: Mount Rubidoux, Bonaminio/Tequesquite, McLean Anza/Narrows and the Granddaddy, Fairmount. Every week, we're in a park. We've always felt safe.

But on Dec. 19, a homeless man was found shot to death in La Sierra Park. On Dec. 31, at Arlington Park, police shot and killed a man who they said pulled a gun on them.

Then Councilman Steve Adams, a Republican who's challenging Democratic Rep. Mark Takano in this year's election, said armed guards should patrol city parks. He even got on TV!

Adams' colleagues seem cool to pistol-packin' privates. But City Manager Scott Barber is hot to spend up to $50K - his council-approved limit - to hire guards for 13 of 58 parks. When they're closed. At night.

Is this, in the words of the Riverside police union prez, "an overreaction to a couple of incidents"?

The RPD divides crime into Part 1 and Part 2. Part 1 includes homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, theft, etc. Part 2 includes simple assault, forgery, vandalism, carrying weapons, sex offenses, drug abuse, DUI, disorderly conduct, etc.

For the first 11 months of 2013, Riverside averaged 1,918 reported crimes per month almost an equal number of Part 1 and Part 2. (December stats weren't posted the RPD website.

The average number of crimes in the city's parks each month: 38. This is 2 percent of all reported crime in the city. Most park crime was the less serious (Part 2) variety. Most Part 1crime was theft.

Are Riverside parks dangerous? Outsiders probably think so after watching a Jan. 30 KABC report featuring congressional hopeful Adams and footage of the Arlington Park crime scene.

"Our parks are safe," Parks Director Ralph Nunez told me. "The community has to know that we're being proactive, dealing with issues."

One way the city deals is through the RPD's Operation Safe Parks. Officers patrol parks as part of their beat.

RPD spokesman Lt. Val Graham: "The two officers in Arlington Park where the suspect shot at them were assigned to Operation Safe Parks and were actually doing what they were supposed to do. This was not a radio call."

RPD also has Problem Oriented Police officers who zero in on trouble spots.

Graham calls the December homicides "isolated…There was no connection between the two, no pattern of gang activity."

Even Adams says the real problem is aggressive panhandling and drug deals. But sending unarmed security guards into parks after they've closed won't stamp out panhandling. And private guards shouldn't be breaking up drug deals.

Parks have problems. Lincoln on the Eastside recorded a Part 1 grand slam in 2013: one homicide, one rape, one robbery, one aggravated assault. Arlington led all parks with 20 arrests.

Which park had the most Part 1 crime - and most thefts (15) but didn't make the city's list for private patrols? Sycamore Canyon. Don Jones Park, which ranked third in arrests (16), didn't make the list, either.

Riverside needs more of what RPD does: regular park patrols and isolating trouble spots. Not city-whipped hysteria, election-year posturing and dubious $50K "fixes."

Making residents feel safe is the city's job, but dispatching private nocturnal patrols when parks are closed is a strange way to go about it.

Reach Dan Bernstein at 951-368-9439


February 19, 2014




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