Grosse Pointe Woods to link photos to park passes

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Grosse Pointe Woods — This east-side suburb is stepping up security at its residents-only park to ensure outsiders aren’t coming in to cause trouble.

The city has enacted a new policy that will require all residents older than 8 to get their photos taken at City Hall so they can be linked with the passes currently used to enter Lake Front Park, City Administrator Bruce Smith said.

Smith cited several recent incidents in which non-residents were using passes “that didn’t belong to them” to gain access to the park on Jefferson and that led to “some incidents and assaults.”

“We had three or four incidents this past month or two with some property damage and assaults and thought it was time to take some steps,” Smith said.

The precaution is the latest imposed by the city in the name of safety in recent years.

The city previously installed surveillance cameras at the park and put an end to its annual fireworks show at one of the middle schools in the wake of concerns over multiple fights involving teens.

The park, located in St. Clair Shores, is owned by Grosse Pointe Woods and is exclusively for residents who may bring along guests, but residents can gain entry only with city-issued passes.

There have been recent incidents involving non-residents, Smith said, that were concerning to park users. He declined to provide specifics “because of the privacy of people involved.”

“There was just a series of issues that came up in the last few months that caused us to think about procedures,” he said. “We want to maintain the park as a family place for residents and thought this was the right thing to do.”

Smith said some of the incidents were reported to police, others weren’t.

The St. Clair Shores Police Department has record of at least one report of alleged threats made to a gate guard at the park this month, said Deputy Chief Anthony Pietrzak.

A Dec. 2 disagreement between a passholder and gate security over the policy for bringing in non-residents escalated to a threat from one individual who returned with a gun, according to a police report obtained by The News.

The resident first argued with a female gate guard about the use of the park’s basketball court and the individuals he was planning to bring in. Once told each would have to present ID to enter, the man became argumentative and told the guard to “shut the (expletive) up.”

The guard reported the exchange to management and was granted permission to deny entry to the individual, who identified himself during the confrontational phone call.

When he arrived later with four friends and was denied access, a male passenger with him threatened “we’ll come back with a gun,” the report says. The resident’s pass was ultimately revoked.

Pietrzak said the department had no role in the policy change, but that Grosse Pointe Woods officials “can do what they feel is necessary.” Normally, he said, there aren’t any serious concerns reported at the park.

“They probably felt it was in their best interest to shore up procedures,” he said. “I’m definitely all for it if it makes things safer.”

With the latest change, a photo ID will pop up on the computer screen when residents are scanned into the park. The changes won’t impact a resident’s ability to bring guests along with them into the facilities, officials said.

The city has asked residents to apply for their 2018 passes and then visit the Grosse Pointe Woods Community Center with state-issued IDs on staggered dates to have pictures taken and uploaded into a secure computer database.

Photos will not appear on a resident’s printed park pass until 2019, officials said.

Improper pass usage at the park has not been confined to a certain age group. But most have involved teenagers to early adults, Smith said.

Among the recent concerns, Smith said some kids were rough-housing and fell onto a ping-pong table, splitting it in two. But those youngsters, he confirmed, were residents who held passes and their parents paid for the damages.

Longtime resident Mary Lees was surprised when she got an email from the city informing her of the added security measures that she called “unnecessary.”

The 62-year-old retiree said she frequents the park in the summer months to walk and attend swim meets for her grandchildren and hasn’t ever seen or heard about any problems.

“The photo ID, I think it’s a bit much,” Lees said. “Why do you need somebody’s picture? I don’t understand that.”

The cards already include a resident’s name, age, address and gender, she noted.

“If they want to see a picture of me, I’ll break out my driver’s license,” added Lees’ husband, Steven Lees, 63.

The city won’t be the first of the Grosse Pointe communities to impose such a rule. Grosse Pointe has had photograph identification on its park passes for more than a decade, Smith noted.

Grosse Pointe Woods residents were notified just this month of the changes that will begin next year, linking their photo to the pass that’s scanned by security as they enter the gated park.

Grosse Pointe Woods Mayor Robert Novitke said the new requirement was presented to city officials during a recent committee session and it seems reasonable. It also won’t result in an extra charge to taxpayers, he said.

“It sounds to me that it’s not much different than what is expected to be done,” he said. “I guess we could require everybody to show the park pass and a license. It just seem so much easier to just show your park pass.”

David Tumpkin, who recently relocated to the city from Southfield, said he’s not bothered by the policy and is eager to obtain his pass and visit the park.

“They are trying to keep the riff-raff out,” said Tumpkin, 50. “I am fine with that.”

Recreation Supervisor Nicole Gerhart said the new process will have residents turning in applications online or at the community center drop box so that the passes will be ready for pick up when they come in for photos. New photos will be needed only every three to five years, she said.

Gerhart confirmed there’s been some concern over individuals handing off their park passes to non-residents but declined to detail how prevalent the issue has been or discuss it further, saying only “some major incidents in the park have been from non-residents using resident park passes.”

Novitke said if residents have objections to the new park policy the city will evaluate them but he doesn’t view the move as “something controversial.”

“I don’t see it being something invasive,” he said. “To me, it makes sense.”