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City should apply past lessons to Van Eps Park

by Greg Belfrage

There's been more violence at Van Eps Park.

A woman is facing charges of aggravated assault for jumping a man from behind and cutting his chin. The man was treated and released, but this latest incident highlights the growing problems of those gathering and drinking alcohol at Van Eps Park.

Police are now being called to the park an average of three times a day. Public intoxication and violence are increasing at the park.

A fence was installed between Van Eps Park and an adjacent parking lot because county employees were feeling intimidated by panhandlers.

There have been similar instances at Tower Park, which is on the north side of downtown.

In response, the city is moving to ban alcohol at Van Eps Park and Tower Park. The mayor has also proposed banning alcohol at nearby Terrace Park.

County Commissioner Jeff Barth fears banning alcohol is a band-aid solution to the problem. He says the crowds will simply move to another park.

However, city history would appear to suggest otherwise.

The same concerns were cited when the city chose to crack down on the downtown loopers almost 15 years ago.

The situations are very similar. Large groups were congregating downtown on the loop. There was public intoxication, vandalism and public urination.

The city responded by bolstering its loitering laws and passing an ordinance aimed at those repeatedly driving the same streets.

"You'll just move the problem," critics said. "Loopers will just go someplace else."

The critics were proved wrong.

The number of drug, DWI and alcohol arrests went up as police beefed up their patrols.

The loopers quickly grew tired of the increased scrutiny and citations. However, they didn't move to another location. They simply dispersed.

The same thing will happen at Van Eps Park if the city bans alcohol and aggressively enforces the law.

If you believe the crowd will go elsewhere, my question to you is this... where were these people prior to congregating at Van Eps Park? If these alcoholics and homeless simply move from one location to another, where was this large crowd a few months ago?

The reality is that crowds are congregating now because word has gotten out that they can drink legally at Van Eps Park. The crowd will continue to grow unless the city responds quickly and forcefully.

Once the city addresses the issue with new regulation and aggressive enforcement, the crowds will disperse back into the community.

Admittedly, there's a larger issue of alcoholism, especially among the homeless.

But we've been trying unsuccessfully for decades to solve those kinds of social problems. Alcoholics simply do not seek help until they are personally motivated to change.

The immediate issue is the increase in drinking and violence at Van Eps and Tower parks.

Banning alcohol at our downtown parks will get the job done.

Greg Belfrage @belfrageshow is heard 6am-9am on KELO 1320 AM and 107.9 FM. Greg can be contacted at greg.belfrage@mwcradio.com

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Teaser photo credit: KELO staff photo