Editorial: Closing the park is a bad sign

Published May 21, 2014 at 12:41AM

Let’s retire the idea right now that closing the small park near the Downtown Bend Public Library is acceptable.

It may be understandable, but it should not be acceptable.

It’s understandable because the library wants to protect its patrons. It wants them to feel safe and welcome. Inside the library, that’s doable, though not always easy. Outside the library in the park on library property, it’s not as easy.

Kevin Barclay, the assistant director of the library system, told us he’s walked right out into the middle of the library’s park when people were screaming obscenities and asked them to stop. And, he said, they usually settle down.

As the weather warms up, though, things can get worse. This spring, things got more worse. There are people drinking, doing drugs or selling drugs. Barclay says it’s not simply a problem created by homeless or transients. “Some of the people get out of very nice looking automobiles,” he said.

The library decided it could not let the situation continue and roped off the park a few days ago. A private security guard patrols.

Barclay and Todd Dunkelberg, the library’s director, met with Bend City Manager Eric King Tuesday morning to brainstorm better solutions than closing off the park. There must be a better solution.

For years, businesses and residents have complained about people hanging out downtown and creating a nuisance or committing crimes. Bend Police Chief Jim Porter said earlier this year that 8 percent of criminal mischief occurs downtown. There’s more than that — theft, disorderly conduct, assault and vandalism.

The Bend Park & Recreation District has its share of problems in the parks. What it has done is include money in its budget to hire park stewards — three new full-time and one part-time. They will be going out in uniform communicating what’s OK and what’s not OK to do in district parks.

That’s one solution.

The city is trying something similar. King is bringing a proposal to the Bend City Council tonight to add two new police officers focused on crime downtown. A larger task force made up of many local agencies and groups has been meeting monthly to explore other solutions.

Closing the library’s park is only a temporary answer. Bend can’t allow downtown to earn a reputation for being unsafe or unwelcome.