RCMP endeavour to avert vandalism at Lions Park
By: Amy Crofts
| Posted: Saturday, Jul 05, 2014 06:00 am
Lions Park has become a hot teen hangout and growing problem area for vandalism, say city RCMP.
Graffiti and damage to park benches, toilets and counters in the park bathrooms have cost the city nearly $40,000 since February 2012.
Two fires last year closed the bathrooms for the majority of the summer. The repair costs alone for those two incidents were $32,000, said city officials.
No charges were laid in either instance.
Last week, officers hosted a hot dog roast for about 20 young people, a way to engage with the city’s youth, said Cpl. Laurel Kading.
A core group of about 20 teens, aged 13 to 21, frequent the area. The majority are between the ages of 14 to 17.
The majority are from St. Albert, but others come from Sturgeon County and Edmonton to hang out, say RCMP.
Some have jobs, while others have no summer plans at all.
The RCMP have received resident complaints about disruptive behaviour and foul language. Some families, including Const. M-J Burroughs’, are deterred from going to Lions Park for family outings.
“We haven’t gone to Lions Park this year as a family. We would always go a few times a year… but I never let my kids go to the bathroom alone,” she said.
There have been no reported problems with young people being disrespectful when approached by other residents, noted Burroughs. They don’t seem to realize the consequences of their behaviour.
“It’s not that the kids are trying to intentionally drive people out – they aren’t,” said Kading. “They are young people with needs. They are young people that are inventive.”
“If they are cold and there’s no firewood, they’re breaking branches out of trees, trying to create a fire. If they have no kindling, they will go and burn toilet paper.”
RCMP believe some drug and alcohol use is connected with the vandalism, but not all of the teens are partaking.
When these young people are gathering there with friends and some show up who are drunk or high, they don’t have the skills to tell them ‘You should stop that,’” said Burroughs.
“They’re just happy to have a sense of belonging, which they’re lacking in other relationships.”
“Some are talking to us about very serious family backgrounds,” added Kading. “They have nothing to lose and they’re going where people are accepting them.”
RCMP patrol Lions Park daily. Grandin mall was the previous hangout spot for the teens.
“Now we get calls to Lions Park through the day and evening. It’s been the trend for the last few years,” said Kading.
From speaking with the teens, officers say the vast majority used to hang out at the youth centre.
The city’s Youth Community Centre closed last July due to a dispute between the centre and the landlord, in addition to funding issues.
The youth are saying they want a “safe place they can hang out,” explained RCMP. A place that is central, where there are people that will listen to them, where there is cheap food and some form of entertainment.
The impact of the youth centre’s closure was put before city council last fall.
“We weren’t able to find any concrete conclusions,” said Chris Jardine, general manager of community and protective services when the report came back to council in March.
“Far too many assumptions and biases come into play.”
The report noted the closure might have created a gap in free, drop-in programming for youth who aren’t “joiners” – those who aren’t inclined to join organized activities.
The report recommended FCSS staff work with other local youth-serving organizations, churches and community groups to address program gaps left by the youth centre’s closure.
It also advised the city develop a policy that would identify an overarching direction for youth programming by May 2015.
“Lions Park is a tremendous resource for St. Albert. We as a society have to take a really hard and long look at that,” commented Kading.
“We can either invest in (youth) now … or later through addictions treatment, jail time, courts, or probation officers. There are going to be huge costs.”
– With files from Victoria Paterson.