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Yosemite Park Task Force Brainstorms Security Issues

More effective signs, improved video surveillance and possible cooperation between police and Eagle Rock High School security staff were some of the highlights of the Dec. 6 meeting.

Six weeks after a teenage boy assaulted a young woman with a knife at the , a task force created to make the place safer held its second monthly meeting and discussed a host of ideas on tackling criminal activities in an area that is a popular community resource located across the street from .

The task force met Wednesday at Yosemite Park to discuss such issues as improving the functioning of security cameras by increasing the bandwidth of their wireless connectivity, installing additional lighting, and how to create public safety signs that would encourage members of the public to call the General Services Police directly during emergencies.

The task force meeting, comprised of a dozen community members, City officials and the new dean of Eagle Rock High School, was chaired by CD 14 Northeast Area Director Zenay Loera and Field Deputy Kai Newkirk from the office of .

Handball Court a Public Menace

One of the key topics discussed at the meeting centered on the pros and cons of tearing down a multidimensional, “H”-shaped handball court and either substituting it with a single wall or constructing a basketball court in its place.

The court, located barely 20 feet from a children’s playground that recently received a $320,000 makeover, is a popular place to play handball. But its right-angled walls also serve as a hiding place for people to drink.

“Older men use the handball court to drink on weekends,” said Morgan Coxwell, an Eagle Rock resident who lives nearby and uses the park, along with his spouse, to take their toddler out on walks.

(At the November 1 board meeting of the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council, which was devoted to a discussion of neighborhood safety issues, Morgan’s spouse Theresa narrated witnessing first-hand the graffiti, drug use and gang activity that is rampant at the park, making it an unattractive place for parents to bring their children.)

Student Arrested for Smoking Marijuana

Last week, police arrested an Eagle Rock High School student after he was caught smoking marijuana at the park, the school’s new dean, Donald Pinegar, told the task force.

As school security guards detained the boy, a tall, thin man wearing a baseball hat backwards hovered nearby, said Pinegar, adding that the man, who often rides a bicycle, routinely sells marijuana at the park.

President Michael Larsen, who was present at the meeting and instrumental in the creation of the task force, said the same man was often seen on the street where he lives on the outskirts of Eagle Rock High.

Pinegar informed the task force that he regularly conducts random searches of students and their bag packs at Eagle Rock High in an effort to crack down on what he acknowledged was the rampant use of marijuana by students.

Initially, the searches turned up lots of marijuana and pipes used to smoke them, Pinegar said, adding that lately it’s been hard to find students carrying drugs.

“I don’t put up with anything,” Pinegar said, explaining that he starts his rounds of the park at 7:30 a.m. in conjunction with a school security guard who knows just about every student by name. “I’m sorry I can’t be here after four o’clock,” Pinegar said. “I also have a life to live.”

ERHS Security and Police May Team Up

Joseph Orlanes, a senior lead officer with the General Services Police, said he’s looking forward to working with Pinegar and his security team to make the park a safer place.

Orlanes urged members of the public who encounter any suspicious activity at the park to call the General Services Police at (213) 978-4670, the department’s dispatch number that is clearly visible on several signs posted on the park’s north end.

What’s critical for the police’s success in apprehending criminals is what Orlanes referred to as “descriptors”—the precise details about what a particular person looks like, including the color of clothes, shoes, hats and any idiosyncrasies worth noting.

Trevor December 09, 2011 at 03:26 PM
No one's thought to try to better conduct drug awareness throughout the campus before doing "random" drug searches? Prevention seems to be the biggest issue if you feel there are that many children smoking. You are more likely to piss off the kids and their dealers then you are to actually solving anything by invading their privacy, regardless of whether you believe it is for the right reasons or not.
Michael Larsen December 09, 2011 at 03:58 PM
Trevor, perhaps you could join the task force and head up a drug awareness program for the school? We need passionate community members to volunteer and get involved.
Tim Ryder December 09, 2011 at 06:37 PM
I'd like to be on this 'Task Force' if just to make sure that truthful information on cannabis is passed on to our high school students and not just idle threats of jail. When I went to Eagle Rock, we didn't have invasions of our privacy by 'security guards'. My class would have staged a school walkout to protest fruitless and invasive activity like that. Seriously, do the parents in this community know their teenagers are being treated like criminals and forced to be subjected to these 'random searches'? And is there really 'rampant marijuana use by students' as new school Dean Mr. Pinegar purports? I don't believe that nonsense. This community has a right to see the evidence for any of these allegations before we even try have any honesty in a 'Task Force' on cannabis prevention.
Timothy December 10, 2011 at 05:51 AM
Put a dog park in the area behind the pool. Eyes and ears all day long.
John Goldfarb December 10, 2011 at 02:03 PM
Timothy, that is an excellent idea; I hope it gets serious consideration.
bbkong December 27, 2011 at 12:31 AM
I live on Addison right by the park and can attest to kids smoking weed, in their cars, on the sidewalk like it's no big deal. I'm actually more concerned with the trash they leave behind on our street and the broken glass all over the amphitheater behind the pool. It's not safe for dogs feet yet park personnel obviously don't feel any need to clean it up. Additionally, if they make the security cams a public link people in the neighborhood would help keep an eye on the place. Cost=$0. It could be a lot better without spending an extra dime.
Michael Larsen December 27, 2011 at 06:42 AM
bbkong, I sympathize and am sorry to hear about your negative experiences and seeming lack of concern from park officials. That's why we have formed the Yosemite Security and Quality of Life Task Force in conjunction with Jose Huizar's office to gather facts and suggestions from folks like you who are impacted on a daily basis by the thoughtless (and sometimes criminal) behaviors of some park patrons. It's going to be a huge task to change attitudes, but we are making progress. If you'd like to become involved, please email me or our Public Safety Director, Oren Bitan for more information. Michael Larsen: m.larsen@mac.com Oren Bitan: orenbitan@gmail.com As far as letting the public view the security cameras, that was discussed, but decided against for privacy and chain of custody issues for evidence. I will certainly bring up the idea again at the next meeting. Thanks again for your post.
bbkong December 27, 2011 at 08:09 PM
Thanks for the response, I really wasn't expecting it at all. To address the privacy and chain of custody issues: I believe it has been established in court that there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in a public area such as a park. Chain of custody is a non-issue here. Done right, security cameras should have a 24 hour recorded cycle in the custody of the people charged with security. Public monitoring puts more eyes on the situation solely for the purpose of reporting. A phone number here would be appropriate. I'll shoot you an email, sure. I'm happy to help within my limitations and I'm sure you'll find that I have a surplus of common sense with no Quixotic overtones.
Michael Larsen December 27, 2011 at 08:11 PM
We're looking into it!
Tim Ryder December 27, 2011 at 09:09 PM
Is there a Neighborhood Watch group in that area? If not, maybe one should be formed. As a member of NW, you learn to get to know who your neighbors are and keep an eye out for each others property when you're not home. Also, you are free to put your own surveillance camera up at your house for a couple hundred bucks or so and monitor your area. But you bring up a good question about the trash problem, Who exactly is in charge of park clean-up and how much are we paying them? It doesn't seem that they are doing their jobs here?
bbkong December 27, 2011 at 09:33 PM
Yes, Tim, we do have a neighborhood watch and most of us know each other in our little dead end. The one thing we all agree on is the need for more street lighting but the city always begs off for lack of funds. I personally have security cameras, but none of the neighbors do. It's an investment a lot of them just can't afford on retirement incomes. Alas, these cameras had no effect on the mugging we had this last summer right in front of my house, nor on the break in my neighbor suffered the year before. Dark things happen in dark places. This is why we need lighting on our street and cameras in the park. We all know who is in charge of keeping the park clean. We also know all the excuses. Two years ago I personally went up to the amphitheater with a street broom and swept about 200 lbs of broken glass into a pile and inform the park personnel. It sat there for a week before they picked it up. There's more glass there now. I would have to call that a failure of leadership.

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