Darien Community Park at Plainfield and Clarendon Hills roads offers plenty of amenities for all ages to enjoy. At nearly 20 acres, the park features two picnic pavilions, four tennis courts, two basketball courts, two sand volleyball courts, a soccer field, baseball fields, two playgrounds and restroom facilities.
But the park is of little use to residents if they don’t feel safe there – whether they have heard rumors about crimes being committed at the park or simply perceive that the park may not be a place they can comfortably enjoy with their families.
Through the new “Enjoy the Park” program, the police department and park district are seeking to help residents feel safe at Community Park by simply increasing police presence.
“Rather than responding to incidents, we are working to prevent them,” said Police Chief Ernest Brown at a recent police committee meeting. “We are seeing more people in the park, building citizens’ trust.
“To use a military term, it’s terrain denial,” Brown said. “Then the decent citizens can come to the park and have a good time.”
According to City Administrator Bryon Vana, the initiative seems to be working.
“Bullies can make it so people don’t want to go there,” Vana said. But he has been hearing positive feedback about the “Enjoy the Parks” program, he said, and more people are using the park again.
If crimes aren’t being committed, why are police at the park so much?
Although the city has put the word out about its new initiative through letters, fliers, and, most recently, through its Direct Connect online program, some residents have worried that the increased police presence at Community Park means crimes are being committed there.
At the city council meeting Monday night, Michigan Mezny, who has lived on 71st Street across from Community Park for 30-plus years, asked Chief Brown to address rumors he had heard around his neighborhood – of assaults, robberies and other crimes taking place at the park.
“I appreciate the squads being there,” Mezny said. But he still wondered if there was any truth to the rumors he had heard.
Brown said that at the beginning of summer, there were some minor issues at the park -- nothing violent, but rumors may have led residents to believe otherwise. He assured Mezny that beefing up security at Community Park is a preventative measure to keep the park safe.
“I think it’s a wise move,” Mezny said after hearing the reasons behind increased police presence at the park.
Vana added that whatever reputation the park may have had in the past, if there is a (crime) issue there, residents will hear about it. The city’s goal is to communicate to citizens that the police are there to protect the park and keep it safe for them, he said.
“If we’re there, we can make sure parks are safe,” Brown said. “This is preventative, to make parks safe. Whatever it takes to get it done, we will do that.”
Residents can be the city’s eyes and ears
Alderman Tina Beilke urged Mezny and other residents who live near the park to call the police department if they see anything of a suspicious nature.
But Mezny said he doesn’t want to call the police for every little thing – he knows they are busy and doesn’t want to bother them.
City officials emphasized the importance of residents letting police know what is going on at the park, no matter how insignificant it may seem at the time.
“Call 911 if there are cars at the park after hours,” said Vana. “Never feel you can’t call 911.”
“Anytime you feel the need for police presence, use 911,” Brown added. “We are more than happy to respond. It is our responsibility. The park district is working with us to make the parks a safe place to be.”