SCHENECTADY — Tranquil by day, but unruly at night, one city resident is sounding the alarm about Central Park after dark.
Jeremy Hughes painted a portrait of a troubling landscape upon nightfall.
“As soon as it hits dusk, if you will, it’s a different world down there,” Hughes told the City Council recently.
This summer was particularly vexing, said Hughes, who cycled through a list of nuisances that put he and several of his neighbors on edge:
Fireworks, loud music, large groups, three shootings — even a drag-race that resulted in a motorist clobbering a utility pole.
Hughes, who lives nearby, said he’s discouraged from taking early-morning walks because he doesn’t feel safe.
“I fully believe the Schenectady Police Department is overworked and overwhelmed, and I know they’re doing the best that they can,” Hughes said. “However, the lack of security in that park for anybody at the park is overwhelming to me.”
Lawmakers agreed there’s little lighting or signage telling people to clear out of the sprawling acreage after hours.
“We definitely need signage that governs what kind of behavior is acceptable and not acceptable in the park,” city Councilwoman Marion Porterfield said.
Lawmakers acknowledged the basketball courts have been a hotbed of activity this summer as COVID-exhausted athletes sought to beat the heat, and batted around ideas for bolstering security parkwide, including installing cameras and enhanced lighting.
“I’ve asked for lights in the park for several years now,” said Councilwoman Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas. “I would think that would help to deter a lot of that, the crowded area where they’re hiding in the shadows and whatnot.”
Perazzo said he feared that someone could be seriously injured.
“Anyone getting hurt is terrible,” said City Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo. “But just imagining a child being hurt by accident is just so distressing to me.”
City police didn’t respond on Tuesday when asked if evidence, whether call volumes or other data, showed an increase in crime this year.
But like other cities across the U.S., the city has grappled with a spike in homicides and gun violence this summer, and Central Park has seen heavy usage despite city pools being closed.
Mayor Gary McCarthy said one of the shootings referenced by Hughes didn’t actually take place at the park and was spillover from elsewhere, but declined to discuss specifics, citing an ongoing investigation.
Officials said they hoped problems would decrease amid the onset of winter, and next summer won’t see a return to elevated crime levels.
“The uptick that we’ve seen in violence will have come back down and people will be using common sense again and not some of the lunacy we’ve seen out in the streets,” McCarthy said.
Assistant Police Chief Michael Seber asked lawmakers on Monday to approve $171,875 in state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services funding, a package which includes funds for a drone system, at least two pole-mounted public surveillance cameras and additional camera equipment.
Those items can likely be deployed to monitor the park when needed, said Seber, who said he planned on discussing the issues with his fellow assistant chiefs on Tuesday.
“Obviously we’re stepping up patrols,” Seber said.
And while signage won’t deter many criminal activities, McCarthy said — “The best deference is for them to be arrested” — Seber acknowledged that signs will give city police an additional tool to arrest people who are breaking the law.
McCarthy said improving signage is a priority citywide, not just for Central Park.
“The goal has really been to standardize the signage not only in Central Park, but throughout other parks in the city, where before it had been kind of a mixed overall messaging that was a little sloppy and often disjointed,” McCarthy said.
In the meantime, the mayor said he will also explore areas where temporary signage can be installed, including those reminding patrons of COVID-related restrictions on crowd sizes.