Detroit police revive park patrol unit

George Hunter
The Detroit News

After Michigan State Police took over patrolling Belle Isle in February 2014, many Detroit residents expressed concern that the state’s stepped-up enforcement would cause illegal activity that had flourished on the island to spill into Detroit’s other parks.

Police Chief James Craig said that’s exactly what’s happened, and said he’s since been tweaking how the city’s more than 300 parks are patrolled.

Last month, Craig resurrected a dedicated park unit, after disbanding a similar squad he launched in 2013.

“As soon as the state took over Belle Isle, we found people were going to Rouge Park and other places to act a fool,” he said. “We put a park unit in place, but because of manpower issues I decided to try to put park enforcement back to the precincts.

“But that didn’t work out,” he said. “It was my decision to disband the unit, but it wasn’t a good decision, so I went back to a dedicated park patrol.”

Craig said the new unit has stepped up park enforcement, which is driving out criminals.

“So now they can’t go to Belle Isle, and they don’t want to deal with our park unit, so I don’t know where they’re going to go,” Craig said.

A resident who lives near an east-side park says she’s thankful the patrols are back, and that police responded to her complaints about crime in and around the recreation site.

Sharon Sklar complained at a June 22 Board of Police Commissioners meeting that people were having sex, doing drugs and playing loud, vulgar music at all hours in and near Balduck Park, which is close to Mack and Warren.

Sklar said police helped quiet things down after they wrote numerous tickets and increased patrols there following her complaint.

“They didn’t ignore me, and things are good — for now,” Sklar said. “Hopefully, that will last, because things were getting ridiculous. It was becoming unlivable.”

Prior to the park patrol unit’s June 13 deployment, police in the 6th Precinct stepped up patrols in several northwest-side parks after issues surfaced in Rouge Park, including an April videotaped fight between two women that ended in a stabbing.

Craig said there were problems at a park near his house.

“It was like a baby Belle Isle,” he said. “I know when it’s going crazy — and then I know when my officers are out there doing their jobs because the music dies down. They’ve been putting a dent in it.”

During the June 22 police board meeting, Sklar complained Balduck Park was “like Belle Isle on steroids.”

“People come, they disrespect our park, they threaten us, they park everywhere, and there’s no police presence,” Sklar told the board. “We actually have longtime neighbors who are moving; they say they just can’t take one more year. We really need to get a handle on it, because it’s unmanageable.

“You can’t even sit in the comfort of your own home without extremely loud music, your windows vibrating, vulgar music, people actually pulling out a barbecue on your front lawn because they don’t want to walk across to the park. We have people having sex at the curb, and urinating on your lawn. I could go on and on.

“If you say anything to people, I’ve had my life threatened, I’ve had people say they’re going to come back and burn down my house,” Sklar told the board.

Board chairman Willie Bell promised he would look into the issue.

Sklar told The Detroit News this week that police upheld their promise. She said police have since stepped up patrols and enforcement, and that things have quieted down since then.

“They told me they’re going to be patrolling more often now,” she said. “It’s going to take more than a week to clean it up, but they did take my complaint seriously, and said they want to rectify the situation. We’ll see how it goes.

“Ours is not the only residential park with this problem since the change of the guard at Belle Isle,” Sklar said. “It’s important we set a precedent to let people know they can’t just run amok. It’s a neighborhood, and you get tired of it.

“After Belle Isle (was taken over by the state), the weekends really got bad,” Sklar said. “They’d park in my driveway, and if you asked them to leave, they’d say they were coming back to beat me up.”

Jonathan Pommerville, a Brightmoor resident who records people dumping and prostitutes having sex in his neighborhood and posts the videos online, said he hasn’t noticed an increase in problems at area parks since the state assumed patrolling Belle Isle.

“I think it’s about the same,” he said. “We get certain times when our parks get flooded with people, usually large church groups, but I’ve not seen any change at all since the state took over Belle Isle.”

Bell said police are doing a good job patrolling the city’s parks, and that they should stay diligent.

“In terms of park use, and people gathering and playing loud music and doing other things, we have to monitor that,” Bell said. “I’m glad they’re doing the park patrols again. They’re being proactive, rather than waiting for problems to happen.”

Sklar said she will be quick to complain again if the problems in Balduck Park resurface.

“If it starts back up, I’ll be up and front talking about it,” she said. “We need our neighborhoods to be livable, and the way this park was getting, that was impossible.”

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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN