Not all crime can be prevented merely with more police presence. We are pleased to see Cedar Rapids officials understand this and are taking proactive action when it comes to recent concerns with Greene Square.
Community leaders have met in recent weeks to discuss a perceived increase in nuisance behavior at Greene Square, which has become one of the city’s most popular public spaces since renovations were completed two years ago. Stakeholders are putting forth a list of creative solutions to ensure the park remains an attractive destination for all Cedar Rapidians.
Cedar Rapids City Council member Dale Todd assembled an informal committee earlier this year to study the problems and recommend solutions. The group included representatives from the nearby Cedar Rapids Public Library, the Metro Economic Alliance, the Cedar Rapids Police Department and Willis Dady Homeless Services.
After studying police logs and interacting with park visitors, the group published a three-page report last month detailing the some of the issues and possible solutions.
It’s easy to see why Greene Square has become a common space for people experiencing homelessness. As Todd’s report points out, the library overlooking the park provides restrooms and wireless internet, and there are several social service hubs within walking distance, including two nearby free meal sites. The park also is centrally located for those who rely on public transportation.
Additionally, nearly $2 million in renovations completed in 2016 and an increasing number of public events have made Greene Square an attractive space for scores of people. The park is frequently used throughout the day and early evening by not only by social service users, but also workers from nearby offices, youth groups and many others.
Overall, this is a story of civic success. The new Greene Square is exactly what we should hope for all our public spaces — a diverse community meeting place to welcome all the cities’ residents and visitors. However, increased traffic has been accompanied by an uptick in rowdy behavior, sometimes leading to police calls.
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Some of the regulars at the park have substance abuse disorders or mental illness, which may spark confrontations. The report also said there are some teenagers and young adults who “appear constantly in conflict with one another and with other park users.”
In response, the library has hired off-duty police officers to patrol the premises. Police presence may sometimes be necessary, but we are glad to see that’s not the only solution local leaders are pursuing. Todd’s group included in its report a list of recommendations which leaders hope will curb negative behavior at Greene Square.
Importantly, the recommendations are “less reliant on enforcement and punitive measures,” and instead aim to “mitigate illegal activity rather than simply displace.”
• Prohibit cigarettes and alcohol in the park.
• Incorporate signs to communicate hours of operation and prohibited activity, and which are “positive, not punitive.”
• Plan additional structured programming to “enhance socialization and interaction,” similar to existing yoga and food truck events.
• Employ law enforcement in a “non-confrontational manner” and connect individuals in need with mental health services.
• Create employment opportunities for the homeless population to carry out park department tasks like daily cleaning.
• Build a network of “community ambassadors” to resolve conflicts among teenagers.
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It’s important to note Greene Square remains a safe place and disruptive activity there is not only manageable, but also relatively minor compared to other problems across the city and region. These recommendations could help make a great community gathering space even better.
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