Ashland Police Chief Tighe O’Meara has asked the Parks and Recreation Commission’s permission to install live-feed cameras at the Ashland Skate Park, where he said there’s been a “perceived decrease of safety.”
Noting frequent calls for police help, O’Meara said Monday that the park at the corner of Water and West Hersey streets is surrounded by “off-putting” transient camping along Ashland Creek, as well as by people using the clothing free box at the Ashland Recycling Center next door.
O’Meara, in an interview Tuesday, said the complaints include reports of drug dealing, drinking in public, smoking marijuana and a “general feeling ill at ease because of suspicious activities … overall general bad behavior.”
Some parents have stopped bringing their young children to the park and some are taking them to skate parks in other area towns, he said.
The goal is not to monitor every moment, he told the Parks Commission Monday, but to “bring back the perception of a sense of safety for parents and kids who want to skate.” The commission gave O’Meara the go-ahead to present plans for the camera system, which would stream live on the internet. The system would cost up to $3,000 and be paid out of the police budget.
One mom, Zoe Lehmann, noted her pre-kindergarten son used to love scootering and biking about, but after the family has called police four times, they stopped going to the park.
“People intoxicated, using drugs and alcohol, skating like maniacs. You see them falling,” she said. “They’re not alert, good skaters if they’re under the influence. People swearing. If you’ve got a 4-year-old, you don’t want that. They put a potted marijuana plant in the skating area.
“We stopped going there altogether. It’s bad. A man had a knife in his belt. That’s legal, but my son asked, ‘Why does he have a knife? What is he going to do with it?’ When you mix drugs and alcohol with weapons, well, we’re not going back there. It’s a bummer.”
Lehmann said cameras would be welcome and a police presence even better. She said police used to station a cadet or park patrol there, handing out helmets and overseeing order but “for some reason, that’s not happening anymore.”
As for the use of cameras, she said, “I don’t know if that’s the most viable method for monitoring it.”
Parks Commissioner Rick Landt cautioned about the loss of privacy with the “big brother” aspect of camera surveillance, a reference to George Orwell’s dystopian novel, “1984.”
Parks and Recreation Director Michael Black said live-feed cameras showing public spaces do not make a recording and are not a violation of privacy.
Another mom, Emily Warren, biking with her son Jasper, 6, and alone in the park on a very hot day, said she’s never personally encountered behaviors that “feel negative … but I never know what to expect here. It’s aggravating, not using the park.”
Lehmann added, “It would be great if police could check it out more and see if anyone is breaking the law. If police aren’t there, this will just go on.”
Although transients were mentioned, O’Meara said, “We don’t have to zero it down to a group of people doing this activity. It’s all of the above, a wide range of people.”
John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.