The dark problem with our parks

Growing up, I always heard rumors and stories about Dickinson parks at night. “That’s where kids go to make out and people go to get high.” Back then, teenage me laughed at that because, of course, I didn’t really care. Whatever you can get away with, I often thought. Now that my family lives across the street from one of Dickinson’s largest public parks, I don’t find it so funny.

I called the Dickinson Police Department three times this summer and made similar calls last summer after witnessing what appear to be drug deals and other suspicious activity taking place in my neighborhood’s park after dark.

One call to police a month ago prompted an officer to drive by and eventually get out of his car to look for two men who had been sitting in one of the park’s many darkened areas for more than an hour. By the time he got there, they were already gone. I watched as they fl ed on foot as the officer rolled by.

This spring, I was one of the three people who called 911 after finding a severely beaten man who’d been thrown out of a vehicle and onto a street in the middle of a Saturday afternoon as a dozen bystanders enjoyed a warm day in the park.

Many of those bystanders were children. Some were just yards away.

Then, last Saturday night as I was returning home, I witnessed three individuals acting suspiciously in the park. Two of them were standing over another who appeared to be trying to get away. (Keep in mind, it was windy and raining with temperatures around 45 degrees.)

As I saw this, I naturally slowed down because it caught my attention. I watched as the two people standing over the other ran off through the park and then onto the street. I, fearing a repeat of the beating incident, parked my vehicle and quietly walked to the street to see if anyone was still in the park. No one was.

These instances are just the tip of the iceberg, however. My wife and I continue to witness what, at least on the surface, appears to be illegal activity in that park on an almost daily basis. Some of it happens in the daytime. Most of it is at night.

We’ll watch from our living room as different men will come to the park either on foot or by bicycle and sit by themselves. A couple minutes later, the lone man will be joined by another. The two — and it’s always only two — sit there and appear to talk or play on the phones for a few minutes. Then, after making an exchange, they’ll go their separate ways.

I doubt I’m the only one who doesn’t know many adult men who like to meet each other in a city park for five-minute sit-n-bull sessions.

I’m not just bothered that I keep seeing incidents like last Saturday’s fight and the obvious drug deals. I’m sick of it.

I’m concerned for my family’s safety. I’m concerned for my neighbors. I’m concerned about the quality of the neighborhood in which I’m living and our future property values should an incident take place in or around that park. I’m concerned someone — me, my wife, a senior citizen down the street — will run across the wrong person in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Most of all, however, I’m concerned the drug problem in Dickinson isn’t going away and that our city parks — meant for families and recreation — are contributing to it by being crime-friendly after hours.

Police Chief Dustin Dassinger and Parks Director James Kramer have already read parts of this column before it was printed, and they’ve been receptive to my concerns. Dassinger hopes random foot patrol through my neighborhood’s park and a assigning a couple extra patrol cars to watch the streets surrounding it may help deal with these issues.

While I agree that police visibility is often the best deterrent, I also believe we need to take it one step further, because our officers are busy enough without also having to be park rangers.

Let’s start talking about installing lights in parks where illegal activity is known to happen. Let’s make our parks more secure by shining a literal light on those who want to use them for their own personal swap meets.

The parks are yours. You pay for them. If you are concerned about something happening in your neighborhood’s park, you have every right to get mad about it and say something. Call the police at 701-456-7759 or call the parks department at 701-456-2074 and let them know what you see, or how you feel.

Dickinson has an outstanding parks system — probably the best in the state — and we as citizens need to do all we can to help keep it that way.

Author: Dustin Monke

Former newspaper editor. Now I market the best baked goods and donuts in America. But every once in a while, I write a cool story too.

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