On a wooden bench in one of the grassy hills of
To a passerby, the scene would have looked simply like a bustling lunch hour in
"There does seem to be something going on on that wood bench there," said
"It's kind of hard to tell what the story is there."
On a table behind Payne lay a spreadsheet with check marks, recording measurements like the number of groups in
But unbeknownst to the visitors, a grand experiment was underway, one involving police, local businesses and organizations, and researchers from the Justice Center. It's the latest in a series of efforts to change the atmosphere of the park.
For the last three years,
In 2012, a 42-year-old man raped a drugged woman in the park in broad daylight. That man,
"They don't call 911 when they see a drunk," Mew said. "They just write nasty emails to politicians."
Last fall, Schutte's group began discussing plans to schedule more events and programs in
In early May, based on that report, the
But no measurements or studies to existed to test these theories, or the notion that more people in the park will drive out crime. At an
What if the
What unfolded was what Mew described as the most comprehensive effort to date to collect data on the uses of the park, and on the effectiveness of crime prevention strategies. Moving quickly, the
Meanwhile, Mew tapped Payne, an expert in policing and crime prevention, to study the park before, during, and after "It's Hip to Be Square" week.
Mew, who became police chief in
"If we can't keep (the park) safe, what does that say about our ability to keep the city of
Mew stood near a booth in his police uniform. Later that week, he showed up in his cycling clothes.
Payne, wearing a green plaid shirt, began to stroll around the path circling the park, pointing out different features: An electrical outlet hanging out of a junction box; the sitting area at the back of the fountain.
At one point, Payne broke off to wander around to a different area of the park. There, the young woman was sitting on the wooden bench. She seemed to be swaying, and the young man next to her was holding her shoulders.
It looked a bit suspicious to Payne. But he wasn't about to run a drug test. That's not the point, he said.
"For someone just walking through the park, what's it look like?" Payne said. "That's how we'd record it."
Meanwhile, on the third floor of the
Spreadsheets sitting on a nearby table featured a series of categories: The number of groups in the park; whether or not children were present; whether anyone was sleeping, drinking alcohol, smoking or skateboarding.
For the study, the researchers divided the park into roughly a dozen "neighborhoods," distinct areas where people go, Payne said.
For four hours a day, from
Both men were volunteering their time. To run the study for a full 12 weeks, or the entire summer, Payne calculated it would cost about
Mew, who had walked upstairs to Payne and Reinhard's observation point, leaned against the railing and looked out the window through his spectacles.
"This is not what I usually see," he said. "I don't see kids bouncing balls, don't see moms pushing kids on bicycles. I don't see people sitting and eating.
"What I see are folks that aren't here right now ... a certain, intimidating element."
The conclusions, and the future
In the more than 100 hours of observations, Payne said neither he nor Reinhard observed a single act of violence or property crime.
They did see what Payne called "disorderly behavior" on a daily basis from a regular group of people -- which fell under categories like sleeping in the park, littering, doing drugs (mostly marijuana), and to a lesser extent, drug dealing, chiefly marijuana and prescription pills. Payne even captured on camera what he believed was a drug deal, a seven-second exchange.
"I don't want to say nothing is going on, but I don't want to scare people and say, 'It's a horrible place, and you shouldn't go there,'" Payne said. "It's a fine line."
While the full report is yet to be written, Payne made several preliminary findings: More people came into the park during the week of special events, and during that time, there appeared to be fewer bad behaviors. But, he said, the effect appeared to be short-lived, creating doubts about the sustainability of routinely holding summer events for the purposes of erasing bad behavior.
Ultimately, watching the park for three weeks left an impression that echoed others in recent months: There's no one solution.
"Nobody really likes to hear this, but there's no magic bullet when it comes to crime and disorder problems," Payne said. "What it's probably going to take is a little bit of design change in the park, a little bit of change in how the park is used, plus the citizens of
Payne is planning to detail the findings in a report to APD and the
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