By Nick Diamantides
A recent shooting in a nearby Long Beach park has prompted Signal Hill officials to initiate regular weekend patrols of that city’s parks in hopes of preventing violence and other illegal activities. During the Tuesday (July 6) meeting of the Signal Hill City Council, Pilar Alcivar-McCoy, director of community services, explained why the patrols are necessary.
“On May 31, 2010, a shooting took place in Pan American Park in Long Beach that left two people wounded,” Alcivar-McCoy said. “In investigating the incident, it was discovered that a group of 150 people had been gathering in the park for the past 18 years without ever receiving or being directed to obtain a permit.”
Alcivar-McCoy noted that in response to the shooting, Long Beach Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske asked the Long Beach Parks Department to be more diligent in monitoring park activities and enforcing that city’s park permit regulations. “Due to the proximity of Signal Hill to neighboring Long Beach, staff felt it was prudent to review our current practices and responses to the challenges of heavy weekend use,” Alcivar-McCoy noted. She explained that the economic recession has resulted in less summer travel for many families who choose to have mini vacations in city parks instead. She added that staff has noticed a significant increase in park use this summer, especially on weekends.
Signal Hill police monitor the parks on their regular patrols, but officers usually do not approach park users unless they are responding to a reported incident or suspicious activity. During the nighttime hours, however, when the parks are officially closed, a private security firm, under contract with the city, regularly patrols the parks. “We are one of the few cities that I know of that actually has private park security at night,” said City Manager Ken Farfsing.
Alcivar-McCoy noted that park security is now augmented during daylight hours on weekends by two three-quarter-time employees of the community services department. “The objective of the park patrol is twofold,” she said. “The primary goal is to ensure that park regulations are being enforced to maintain safety and order in the parks. Secondly, the park patrol staff function as ambassadors of the city for residents using the parks by answering questions, providing information and helping resolve any issues they may have.” She added that the Signal Hill Police Department is meeting regularly with the community services staff to provide suggestions and feedback.
Alcivar-McCoy added that park patrol staff make rounds, visiting Signal Hill Park, Discovery Well Park, Hilltop Park and Reservoir Park several times during their shift. “At each visit, they observe use of the park, make contact with patrons who have rented shelters and/or open space, monitor the restrooms and trash, and advise patrons who are violating park policy,” she said. “If assistance is needed, staff contact the Signal Hill Police Department for support.”
At the end of each shift, park patrol staff fill out a report form and submit it to the community services department. “Through these summaries, we are able to recognize issues and respond accordingly,” Alcivar-McCoy explained. “In addition, park patrol staff are working with Public Works to redesign all park signage to ensure the information is up to date, consistent and most importantly, enforceable by law.”
After the presentation, councilmembers agreed that the weekend park patrols were necessary. Councilwoman Ellen Ward asked if the patrols would only be in effect during the summer months. Alcivar-McCoy said that was the plan for now, but the program would be reevaluated at summer’s end. Councilman Larry Forester asked how the public could clearly identify park patrol staff. Alcivar-McCoy explained that in addition to the Signal Hill Community Services logo, staff shirts would have “Park Patrol” in large letters on the back.
In other actions, the City Council: approved the construction of a wireless telecommunications tower on the rooftop of a building located at 3275 E. Grant Street; granted a pipeline franchise to Oxy Long Beach, which recently took over the operation of 245 feet of existing underground pipeline in the city; approved a $42,855 contract with RGP Planning and Development Services for an update on the city’s General Plan Safety Element; and approved a $37,186 contract with Albus-Keefe & Associates Inc. for geotechnical engineering services related to the upcoming new Signal Hill Police Department headquarters.
The next meeting of the City Council will take place at 7pm on July 20 in the Council Chamber of Signal Hill City Hall.