An agreement approved on Monday will allow the Park District of Oak Park to ban troublemakers from the village’s parks for as long as 365 days.
The park district has had problems with people repeatedly misbehaving in local parks – panhandling, drinking alcohol, smoking or harassing others – said Gary Balling, executive director. With the agreement between village hall and the park district, Oak Park police will now be able to temporarily remove people who violate the rules in local parks. And people who repeatedly shirk the rules can be banned from village parks.
“This isn’t going to be a set of rules that’s used everyday,” Balling said. “It’s a policy that’s going to be utilized when there’s a repeated behavior problem where firmer consequences are needed.”
Balling declined to name specific instances in the past where people have violated park district rules, only to return later. Currently, if someone misbehaves in a park, they’re asked to leave and given the most minor citation the Oak Park Police Department can hand out.
Specific parks that have had problems include Scoville, Austin Gardens, Mills, Barrie, Maple and Longfellow, Balling said.
The idea of banning people from parks first came up in March 2009, as the park district tried to figure out how to address chronic behavior problems at its parks. The idea was suggested by West Suburban PADS, Balling said, a local homeless-help organization that uses a similar strategy at its shelters.
With the new rules, Oak Park police and some park district staffers will be able to write dismissal notices at the parks, banning individuals for 24 hours. Someone who receives such a notice is prohibited from entering any of the village’s parks for a day.
“If someone is misbehaving repeatedly, it’s not effective enough to ask them to leave one park, only to have them walk to another that’s three blocks away and engage in the same conduct,” said Mark Burkland, the park district’s attorney.
People who accumulate dismissals or citations in local parks can be banned for up to 365 days, and the park district can file criminal trespass charges as a final step.
Burkland calls the new policy a “novel” approach to addressing miscreants in village parks. In his research, he couldn’t find another park district with specific rules to address repeated offenders.
The village board unanimously approved the agreement between the park district and village hall on Monday, with no discussion. Local police will now be able to enforce park district rules, and as such, the village will receive any money from fines as a result of the enforcement of those rules. The park district is also indemnifying the village from any liability while enforcing its rules, and will reimburse the village for any expenses if police officers have to go to court while performing those duties.
The next step, Balling said, is for the park district to train its staff and Oak Park police in how to enforce the new regulations. The park board previously approved the agreement on April 15.