A group of concerned neighbors living near Weaver Park brought their concerns about the park to the Thomaston City Council meeting last Tuesday night. Their concerns dealt with alleged criminal activities happening in and around the park, the safety of the area due to those activities, and the response time by Thomaston Police to their calls.
Tom Marshall, who lives at the corner of Oglethope Way and Parkway Drive, spoke for the group. Marshall brought up several issues, include illegal sexual activity taking place at the park, illegal alcoholic beverages being consumed at the park, fights at the park, and suspected illegal drug activity at the park. He also expressed concern about young black males congregating in the middle of Park Lane, making it difficult for residents and others to pass by safely.
Marshall also noted that the brick building in the middle of the park is in disrepair and a danger to those in the park, and that next to the new concrete retaining wall is an open trench four feet wide and seven feet deep running the length of the wall. He called the building and the retaining wall “lawsuits waiting to happen.”
Marshall said when he and other residents initially called the Thomaston Police Department about these incidents, very little was done, but that lately the police have been taking a more active role.
“From my understanding,” Marshall said, “the police force has been cut back to just two officers per night. So they have a hard time responding to calls and it is sometimes 20 or 30 minutes before they get there.
“I’m not the park police and I don’t want to be,” he added. “ I’m just a concerned citizen speaking on behalf of my neighborhood. Something needs to be done to correct this blatant disrespect to property and the personal rights of others in this community.”
City Manager Patrick Comiskey said the city is planning on repairing the building in the middle of the park, and as far as the new retaining wall, the contractor told them it needed to “cure” for 28 days before the trench could be filled in.
In regards to the criminal activity at the park, Thomaston Police Captain Sidney Corley responded to Marshall’s issues.
“A lot of the things that Mr. Marshall said are true,” Corley said. “We don’t disagree that things are going on in Weaver Park. We’ve had a lot of calls to that area. On some of the items that he mentioned, the one on a lot of people standing in the road, a couple of the other calls that we responded to, by the time the officer arrived, they had gone. The kids that were blocking the roadway were, I think, just transiting the area.”
The captain added that the problem is not just at Weaver Park.
“Part of the problem we’re having with Weaver Park is just like every other location in town,” he said. “We have it at Greatest Generation Park, we have it at the Park Street Playground. The parks close at dark. An officer will ride by, and if they see somebody out, we make contact with them. If it appears innocent, we ask them to leave and they leave. If they appear to be up to something, it gets more involved and if they are committing a crime, we charge them with it. But then the officer leaves, and 30 minutes later somebody else might show back up. That’s the stuff we can’t prevent, because we don’t have enough people.
“We have four officers on day shift, four on evening shift, and three on the night shift,” Captain Corley explained. “What Mr. Marshall is referring to, for example, we only had two officers working last night. One was on his regular day off and one was sick, and that left us with two. Tonight we have three officers – the guy that was sick is back.”
Corley said the majority of activity they have responded to is mainly loitering calls and people at the park after dark. He added that if residents will call 911 when they see something, the police will respond.
“The thing about people having sex in the park, I don’t argue that it could have occurred. But I couldn’t find anything in any of our reports where anyone called us,” he said. “If you don’t call us when these things are happening, nobody is coming. You are the eyes and ears of the community. If you see criminal activity and you call, somebody will respond. There are times where they’ll be there within a couple of minutes, but there are times where everybody is tied up on calls and it might take some time for them to get there. And there are times when we’re spread kind of thin.”
Captain Corley added he has a vested interest in Weaver Park, having moved into the area when he was seven.
“My parents are elderly and still live in Weaver Park,” he said. “Their property butts up to Weaver Park. Me personally, I have not seen anything different from the way it has been for the last 41 years. I talked to my parents and asked if they have seen anything different, and they said, no, it’s been the same way it’s always been. That’s not to say there’s not any issues going on. We’re trying to correct them as much as we can, but there is only so much we can do.”
Corley added that surveillance cameras are being installed at Weaver Park. He said while the cameras may not keep the activity from going on, they will help the police identify and catch the participants.
“But the biggest thing I can emphasize is if you see stuff happening, call us,” he said. “That’s what we’re there for. If you don’t call us, we don’t know about it. And there is no call too small.
District 1 Council member Gary Atwater echoed Captain Corley’s remarks about calling the police. He said it will help move the crime away from the area.
“We need to be vigilant to criminal activity, and when we see it, use 911,” Atwater said. “If you called earlier, call again. If people involved in criminal activity see that someone’s watching, that someone is going to call 911, and every time he starts to do something, here comes the police, he’ll find someplace else to hang out. We’ve got to aggravate them like they aggravate us in disrupting our community with their antics. We’ve got to keep our antics going by dialing 911, and let them know that we are vigilant and we will be there.”
Larry Stanford may be reached at 706-647-5414 or on Twitter @LarryStanford7.