Albion continues debate whether parks should be locked at night

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 30 May 2022 at 8:27 am

Photos by Tom Rivers: Kevin Sheehan, standing, shares his concerns about St. Joseph’s Park staying open all night on Clinton Street. Sheehan, the village’s code enforcement officer, lives next to the park.

ALBION – The Village Board was told by some neighbors of two parks, St. Joseph’s and Lafayette, to keep those sites locked at night or else neighbors will be disturbed at night and the sites will attract illicit activity.

The board last month voted to take the locks off the gates of the two parks on the west side of the village. Both parks are on residential streets with houses close by.

Neighbors attended this past Wednesday’s board meeting and said they have heard people having sex at night at Lafayette and people hanging out very late.

The neighbors said they support keeping the parks open during the day, but should be locked up at night.

“I don’t understand the pros of keeping the parks open at night,” said Lynn Burgess, who has lived next to Lafayette for 34 years. “We shouldn’t have to be woken up at night.”

Village Trustees Tim McMurray and Joyce Riley voted to keep the locks off the parks and they continue to support that. They said more police patrols can help keep the parks safe at night. They urged residents to call the police if there are people in the parks at night.

The village is proposing a parks and recreation code that calls for the parks to be open from 8 a.m. to dusk. People in any of the parks after dusk could be ticketed for trespassing.

Some of the neighbors of Lafayette Park, which has entrances on State and Park streets, asked that the park be locked at night because some of the park users are loud at night disturbing residents.

The other parks don’t have gates that can be locked. Vets Park on Linwood Avenue and Carosol on Ingersoll have low fences without a gate. People could easily hop those fences anyway if gates were locked, trustees said. Bullard Park on Route 31 is wide open and would be impractical to put in fencing with an entrance gate, trustees said.

Chris Barry, one of the village trustees, said Lafayette and St. Joseph’s have the locking devices. He supports locking those parks at night. Lafayette is unusual in that it has entrances from two streets. It’s a “thoroughfare” allowing people to cross from one street to the other, Burgess said.

Mayor Angel Javier, who voted to not locks the parks at night, said there will be incident reports of the local parks that will be posted and made available to the public “so people know what is happening at the parks.”

Kevin Sheehan, the village’s code enforcement officer and a former village trustee, lives next to St. Joseph’s Park on Clinton Street. He said that park has playground equipment in front by the entrance. The park then extends far back away from the road, away from any street lights. That makes it easy for people to congregate at night somewhat undetected and disturb neighbors.

Sheehan said the parks are for kids and should be open during the day, but not at night.

“I love hearing the kids play there,” he said. “It’s like music, but the park should be locked at night.”

Burgess, the Lafayette neighbor, said a lock at night is an easy deterrent “to people who shouldn’t be there at night.”

Trustee Tim McMurray said the parks can be a safe place after hours for kids in unstable homes. Some kids go there after hours and don’t cause trouble.

Trustee Barry said he was one of those kids, however, who went there in the dark and destroyed things.

Susan Oschmann, a member of the Albion Recreation Committee, raised the issue last month of the locked St. Joseph’s Park. She lives close to the park and tried to take her grandchildren there in 2018 and was surprised to see the front gate locked.

The village used to have the police department unlock the gate in the morning and then at dusk, but it didn’t always happen if the police had other calls.

Sheehan was given a key to the gate and he often unlocked and locked St. Joe’s. But Oschmann said it seemed the park was often locked up, even during the summer, despite nice playground equipment and a picnic area.

The village will be putting in brighter lights at Lafayette and security cameras at Bullard to help deter any vandalism.

The village is proposing local parks law that sets the hours of operation from 8 a.m. to dusk. The proposal, which should be voted on next month, also doesn’t allow disruptive behavior – disorderly conduct, harassment or loitering. No person will be allowed to carry or discharge a firearm, slingshot or bow and arrow, and no stone throwing will be allowed.

The code also doesn’t allow any excavating or digging up of plants. No pets are allowed but the village may set aside space for dogs in a fenced in area in the future.

There also shouldn’t be any selling or soliciting in the parks, and no posting of advertisements.