New policy allows city to ban citizens from Lexington's public parks

bmusgrave@herald-leader.comJune 19, 2014 

A bench in Woodland Park.

CHARLES BERTRAM | 2007 STAFF FILE PHOTO — Lexington Herald-Leader

In coming months, people who deal drugs, harass people or commit other serious crimes in Lexington's 105 city parks could be banned from the properties.

The Urban County Council voted 14-0 Thursday to approve a new parks department policy.

[Other actions by the council on Thursday: Rupp meeting canceled; fiscal 2015 budget passes]

The council was the latest body to sign off on the policy, developed by a task force appointed in response to multiple citizens' concerns about safety in the city's green spaces.

General Services commissioner Geoff Reed said the banning policy was a effort to help police maintain safety in parks. Under the policy, someone who is banned from a park and then returns may be arrested for trespassing. Currently, if someone commits a particularly dangerous crime in a park — such as assault or selling drugs — there is no way for the city to keep the person out, Reed said.

"There are people who have been arrested, then they bond out and are right back at the parks," he said.

The policy is not intended to deal with minor infractions or designed to rid the parks of homeless people, Reed said.

"This is for the handful or so people who have committed repeated offenses or very serious offenses," he said.

The most common complaint about city parks, according to Reed, is drug-dealing, followed by fights and assaults. Such incidents are isolated, but citizen concerns about safety have increased in recent years, he said.

Chris Cooperrider, a deputy director for the parks department, said the policy included an appeals process for people who think they have been banned unfairly.

Many communities have banning policies for their parks, but few have appeals processes, Cooperrider said.

A task force of council members, park staff, police officers and community members developed the policy as part of a larger strategy to encourage safer parks. The city's park advisory board also approved the policy. Reed said Lexington police Chief Ronnie Bastin and Fayette County Attorney Larry Roberts also signed off on it.

Cooperrider said officials still were working on details about exactly what activities would get a person banned from the park system. He also said they expected the policy would need to be modified after it is implemented.

"That's one of the reasons why we decided to keep it at the policy level and not a city ordinance," Cooperrider said. "We understand that it will likely need to be tweaked."

Reed agreed.

"I think it's something that we have to carefully monitor," he said. "I want to make sure that this is fairly implemented and isn't designed to impact one part of the community."

The parks department already has a policy that allows it to remove people from sporting venues such as baseball diamonds for physical and verbal altercations.

Before the police takes effect, Cooperrider said the city would have to put up signs in the parks to warn people they could be banned for certain behaviors. Cooperrider said a start date for the policy had not been set.

Beth Musgrave: (859) 231-3205. Twitter: @HLCityhall.

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