More than six months after a fatal gang-related shooting at P.T. Cole Park, police say they feel city parks are safe but encourage community members to take common sense precautions.
Crime statistics from the Tyler Police Department show that the total number of reported crimes was 82 in 2012 compared to 74 in 2013.
According to the 2013 statistics, there was one reported sexual assault at Bergfeld Park and one reported sexual assault at Rose Rudman Trail.
There was one report of indecent exposure at Rose Rudman Trail in 2013 compared to three in 2012. Most parks saw none or one reported auto burglary in 2013, while Rose Rudman Trail saw five, Lindsey Park saw four and Faulkner Park saw 16.
Tyler police spokesman Don Martin called the two reported sexual assault cases "unfounded."
“One case the victim would not cooperate with police and could not substantiate it occurred, (while) the other case was boyfriend/girlfriend that it actually occurred at a residence,” he said.
With auto burglaries, Martin said crime of opportunity is involved, and it doesn't mean that the park itself is bad.
Overall, Tyler police Lt. Robert Barrentine said he considers the city’s parks “very safe.”
He said he takes his own children to the park, and officers patrol parks on a routine basis.
“We’re not having any major problems at the parks right now. We had one murder at P.T. Cole, but that’s the biggest thing that we’ve had,” Barrentine said.
After the P.T. Cole incident, park hours were changed, a neighborhood crime watch was established, and the area was given extra patrol, he said, so the amount of people going to P.T. Cole now compared to when the murder occurred has decreased.
If there is a lighting issue, Barrentine said police will notify the Parks and Recreation Department.
Still, Martin said the city parks generally are designed for daytime use.
“We say if you’re going to run, don’t do it at night if you don’t have to,” he said. “When you’re out in the dark, you become more of a target.”
City of Tyler Parks and Recreation Director Stephanie Rollings said lighting at parks depends on the park facility hours and need.
But she said she believes lighting doesn’t necessarily provide safety, and people should take precautions.
Graffiti has not been an issue in parks, Ms. Rollings said.
She said a lot of hard work has gone toward ensuring that any graffiti is cleaned up and parks properly maintained.
“I think when you do that, you set an expectation level for the citizens. … When (things are) well maintained, it deters some of that activity. … We’re always diligent on being on top of any issues at that time,” she said.
Additionally, Barrentine said, there is a transient population in Tyler, and police try to encourage those people to use The Salvation Army or other available facilities.
Martin said if a homeless individual is sleeping on a bench on the weekend while there are families around and children playing at the playground, then an officer who is at the park could address the situation.
“The officer will likely say, ‘There are people who would like to use it,’” he said.
“We’re trying to make it a friendly environment for everyone to enjoy, and we would just politely say, ‘Can you find another place to sleep?’” he said.
But he said it would be up to officer discretion to monitor what is occurring.
In talking about patrolling parks, Barrentine said community response officers are assigned to specific areas of town and are responsible for parks in their area. He said he has officers who check their parks every day, maybe a couple times a day, depending on what calls for service come in and what else is happening.
“It’s more of a random patrol,” he said.
Barrentine said if police receive reports of a problem in a certain park, they will use bike patrol or other units to go out and monitor those parks.
In the end, he encouraged community members to contact police if they have a problem or see something suspicious, and they can check it out.
“They’re in the parks more than we are, and we need them to help us to keep the parks safe,” he said.
He also encouraged residents to “use good judgment” and “be aware of your surroundings.”
He said police can only do so much, and individuals also are responsible for ensuring their safety and taking precautions.
“I hope more citizens take their families out there and enjoy the parks because that’s what they’re there for,” he said.
Tyler resident Jon Bailey, 41, said he feels safe running at Rose Rudman Trail. He said he runs before the sun is up, and generally sees several other runners there.
In the evenings, he said it seems like there is good traffic along the trail, even near sundown.
Bailey said he is not aware of any crime that has taken place there, and the only accident he has witnessed is a collision between a person and bicycle.
Mayor Barbara Bass said she goes more to Rose Rudman Trail because it is close to her house, but she has been to most of the parks over the last few years and has always felt safe.
But she said she believes common sense comes into play.
“I’m not going to be out anywhere late at night by myself. I think the common sense has got to come in,” Mayor Bass said.
She said she has been pleased with how things are going.
“Overall, I was very pleased to see that the community is watching out for each other," she said. "The police department’s being notified when there are issues, and we’ve had just relatively minor issues in the other parks (besides P.T. Cole)."
She also said the police department watches out for the safety of residents, but they also respond to requests from community members, who are “eyes and ears.”
Community members may contact the Tyler Police Department at 903-531-1090.