Damage to park equipment raises security questions

GREENFIELD — John Grossman always enjoyed playing disc golf during the summer camping trips he took each year with his Boy Scout troop, and when the time came for him to start his Eagle Scout project, he decided to work to bring a course to Greenfield’s Riley Park.

After raising nearly $2,000 and spending more than 40 hours working on the project, the Greenfield-Central High School student, 17, said he was “outraged” to discover the equipment he donated to the City of Greenfield’s Parks and Recreation Department was vandalized just days after it had been installed.

The incident — although fairly minor, park officials said — raised questions about park security. Parks department leaders and Greenfield Police Department officers say they do their best to keep crimes in the parks at bay, and when they do occur it’s difficult to catch those responsible.

Jim McWhinney, the maintenance foreman for the city’s parks department, said vandalism occurs at least once a week in Riley Park.

Maintenance crews are usually kept busy throughout the week cleaning up graffiti or broken park property. The park is equipped with security cameras, but the devices are placed in areas of high traffic, such as in bathrooms and near the basketball courts, McWhinney said. There are areas in the park the camera cannot see, he said.

The severity of the damage caused by vandals varies, but it’s always frustrating, workers said.

The recreational equipment installed at the park is durable and was built to withstand wear and tear, maintenance worker Josh Gentry said, so the vandalism isn’t always permanent. Gentry said he sometimes is amazed by the effort criminals invest in attempting to break something.

“If they could direct that energy to something else, they would probably be superstars,” he said.

If someone is caught on camera vandalizing park property, park officials work with police to find the individual responsible. Rather than pressing formal charges against the person, McWhinney said he tries to work with the person to have them help fix the damage or cover the cost of the repairs.

Greenfield Police Department Chief John Jester said there were a few worrisome incidents in the summer that led to his officers patrolling the park more regularly. He believes crimes there have decreased in recent weeks because of the extra efforts, he said.

Stationing an officer at the park all day and night, however, isn’t feasible, he said.

“I’ve got a whole city to protect,” Jester said.

John’s nine-hole course was not built as strongly as those traditionally found in public parks, officials said, and they’re working with his family to see what can be done to repair and reinforce the equipment to ensure residents can enjoy it for years to come.

Bob Grossman, John’s father, said although the incident was disheartening for the family, it served as a life-lesson for John, who now knows what it feels like to have his property or work vandalized. John can tell his peers about how he felt, and maybe that will prevent one of his classmates or friends from participating in vandalism, Grossman said.

“I think it was a good realization to have,” Grossman said.

Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or cvanoverberghe@greenfieldreporter.com.