"Franklin Park is extremely safe," said Boston Police Sgt. Samil Silta at a well-attended Wednesday night meeting on safety in the park after a mugging where a man was left tied up.
Yet despite statistics to prove it, those present were skeptical. Martha Karchere of Park Lane questioned the data. She said she was discouraged and maintained her 911 calls go without responses.
Lee Glenn, who has lived in Jamaica Plan since 1967, said "after years of improvement in the 1980's and 1990's crime is going up in Franklin Park and the quality of Franklin Park is going down."
Police made two arrests in the Oct. 4 armed robbery that sparked Wednesday's meeting. In that incident, muggers accosted a man walking his dog and took the man's phone, wedding ring and some personal papers. Police are investigating whether the Franklin Park muggers are responsible for similar recent incidents at Jamaica Pond.
It was quality of park use that bothered people the most.
Christine Poff, executive director of the Franklin Park Coalition, welcomed everyone and the community service officers of both police precincts responsible for Franklin Park: Silta of B-2 (Roxbury) and Officer Williams Jones of E-13 (Jamaica Plain).
Silta immediately raised the biggest quality of park life issue in Franklin Park: the impromptu loud parties at the Valley Gates between the gate houses and the Zoo gate. After receiving numerous complaint calls about loud music one summer night police responded and "we saw over one hundred cars, public drinking and two trucks with speakers. The word gets out over social media that this is the place to go."
Silta said that "restricting access at night until dawn is the only solution." After talking with residents at Franklin Park apartments on Seaver Street and Grove Hall groups he felt confident that the community would support a bollard and chain gate across that entrance. "But I need the community support on this," the sergeant said. "We don't want to do anything the spoil the landscape."
Roaring Dirt Bikes
Motor bikes and other all-terrain vehicles racing through the park were a big concern of many residents.
Dorothy Fennel, who lives on Iffley Road, said that she and her preschool daughter have been bothered by dirt bikes that fly at them into and out of the park at the Walnut Avenue Entrance. She says she often walks her daughter to El Parquecito de la Hermandad and has been upset by these bikes more than once.
Silta had a solution for this problem that he is attempting to formalize with a city ordinance: "Starve them of fuel. Gas stations know who's buying gas for these bikes when people walk in with cans."
The ordinance would forbid the sale of gas unless the container was certified at that gas station. He also urged the community to notice where bikes are parked: inside apartment houses, in driveways or propped up against a house. He said call 911 and report the address because often the bikes are stolen. The police and fire department will respond; the fire department because residents can't have unprotected fuel cans on the property.
"I tell all my community groups to be on the watch for motor bikes and ATVs and call in the address," Silta said.
Scattered hypodermic needles especially at the Walnut Avenue entrance was another big concern that Silta sadly counted as part of the rise in heroin use in the city.
"I looked over the police reports for Franklin Park calls over the past year," he said. "There were 129 incidents, which is not a lot. All were on the main roadway Circuit Drive, most were at bus stops and the majority were drug-related or public drinking."
Dispatchers, Police Need to Know Park Better
"You tell us to call 911 but when we do we have to give an address" said one man from Walnut Avenue. He expressed the frustration of the majority of the 35 people at the meeting that their 911 calls are not attended to because the 911 call taker or the police doesn't know where to go. Poff said "we need to educate the 911 takers about Franklin Parks areas."
Several speakers expressed frustration that they cannot adequately describe where they are when calling in a complaint.
"Telling us to call 911 is just going around in circles," said one.
Boston Park Ranger chief Gene Survillo said that years ago the rangers numbered all the gates around Franklin Park and used those numbers as locators of incidents. He said this did not seem to be a Boston police practice. He urged the police and the public adapt the policy of using gate numbers as park locators.
Silta said "I walked around the park the other day with Christine. I went back and downloaded a pretty good map of Franklin Park and with the help of the Franklin Park Coalition numbered the gates."
A few copies this map were available at the back table but none were distributed.
Silta said that any call should try to be as specific as possible. For instance, say "Walnut Avenue or near White Stadium, or even use your own address" if you live near the park, the sergeant said.
Dan Scanlon of Rossmore Road said "I always hear that Franklin Park belongs to all of us. [The flip side ] of that is that it belongs to no one bureaucratically. Where does the buck stop? Who is responsible for Franklin Park?"
'We're Not Going to Let the Park Slide Back'
Park Commissioner Chris Cook, who had been sitting quietly in the audience stood up and spoke up and said to scattered applause that he was.
"I am appointed by Mayor Walsh," he said. "I am the mayor's representative in Franklin Park. We are engaged. We have to face the fiscal 2016 budget soon but we are not going to let the park slide back...The Walsh administration is engaged in Franklin Park."
"We are an incredibly safe city" said Officer Jones from Area E 13.