Jerry Burrell Park now has a working water fountain and better lighting, but residents said they were far from satisfied.
In the first City Council committee meeting since Councilman Joseph Allen ordered city officials to fulfill residents’ demands for the park, they again asked for a round-the-clock police patrol at Jerry Burrell.
Last time, city officials largely ignored that request. This time, Director of Operations Sharon Jordan flatly told them that police will not be stationed at the park every minute of every day.
“Police staffing has already been increased significantly,” she said, referring to an effort that began earlier this year after the number of shootings and shots-fired incidents in the city increased dramatically. State police are now helping patrol Schenectady.
“There are more police officers in the vicinity of Hamilton Hill and Vale,” Jordan said. “All attempts will be made for walking patrols in that area. Nevertheless, a commitment for continual and permanent presence is not possible.”
Residents were clearly unhappy with that decision. Their spokeswoman, Ayanna Hunter, said the city was giving up on an opportunity to create a new model for fighting crime. She envisioned signs declaring the park a “crime-free zone” (based on the idea of a drug-free zone) and a continual police presence, which she argued would nearly eliminate crime in the park.
She added that police have good reason to stay near Jerry Burrell Park.
“The area around the park has a long history of crime,” she said.
Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett said the drug-free zones don’t work — even though dealers know they face higher penalties if they’re caught in those areas, they continue to operate in and near many city schools.
As for the constant police presence, he said it would be impossible.
“We don’t have the resource capability to do that,” he said, adding that police have to patrol every park.
“They have to realize there’s children in the entire city,” he said. “We are putting them up there whenever we can. … What people need to realize is the level of [criminal] activity is high not just in Vale and Hamilton Hill but the entire city.”
He and Jordan said residents need to do more to help make the park safe, which they disagreed with vehemently. Although Jordan said the group was willing to help monitor the bathrooms — which will stay locked when monitors aren’t available — the residents said they shouldn’t have to do it.
“Hire seasonal workers, or have probation and parole do it for their community service,” Hunter said. “Fundamentally, we feel the responsibility and well-being of the park should be on the city.”
Bennett said residents need to play a role in that.
“Police can’t do it all,” he said, clearly frustrated after staying awake all night at a Hattie Street killing scene. “Get your kids off the streets at night when it gets dark. Could you just take responsibility for that?”
In other park business, the council got its first look at the design for the handicap-accessible playground that will replace Tiny Tots Land in Central Park.
Although the new playground equipment will not be installed until late August, workers have already removed the Tiny Tots equipment and are adding sidewalks and a rubberized surface that will allow disabled children to traverse the entire playground. In the past, wheelchairs got stuck in the soft ground.
The $1 million project, funded through a variety of state, county and private grants, was three years in the making. Sabrina Holiday-Harder, who began pushing for an accessible playground after her disabled daughter died, said she was overwhelmed to finally see the project unfold.
“Of course I was told there was no money,” she said. “My initial goal was $200,000 … the budget has just grown!”
The goal is to create a playground that can be used by all children, disabled or not, so they can all play together. Holiday-Harder said that’s what her daughter Nora always wanted — to play with the other children in her class.
“My daughter would love this playground if she were here,” she said. “It is not exclusive to handicapped children. It is inclusive of handicapped children.”
The playground should be complete by the first week of October, Commissioner of General Services Carl Olsen said.
More from The Daily Gazette:
Categories: Schenectady County