By Tom Callis
Peninsula Daily News
Want more top stories? Sign up here for daily or weekly newsletters with our top news.
Aimed at reducing the number of reports of teenage trouble-making around City Pier, City Manager Kent Myers enacted two new park policies Thursday that make it illegal to smoke within 100 feet of a playground as well as prohibiting anyone older than the age of 12 to use a playground unless supervising a youngster.
“We feel like this will . . . create an environment where families will be allowed to enjoy this area once again,” he said.
Security cameras at the pier also were repaired last week, Myers said.
The move is the first time the city has prohibited outdoor smoking that wasn’t required by the state, Myers said.
Both of the new policies are for all city parks with playground equipment. But police enforcement is planned only at the downtown area.
The south end of the park near Railroad Avenue and Lincoln Street has increasingly become a favorite hangout spot for many teenagers over the past few years, a change not welcomed by nearby business owners and some park users.
Police said they get calls daily about the teenagers smoking, sitting on the playground equipment near the Waterfront Trail, blocking sidewalks and just being an overall nuisance.
And last week, they didn’t waste any time enforcing the new rules.
Two police officers, with measuring tape in hand, patrolled the area Friday looking for violators and explaining the policies to park users.
Officers were also scheduled to be on patrol at the pier today.
Detective Jason Viada, one of the officers on patrol Friday, said no citations were given, though at least once, the officers brought out the tape when suspecting someone was smoking within the 100-foot buffer around the park’s playground.
Viada said the focus of the patrol was to educate the public, particularly the youths, on the new rules, rather than issuing fines.
“I think they are just happy someone is coming up to them and explaining the rules,” he said.
Their presence was not welcomed by all.
“Why are you down here?” Jara Wellin, 19, asked after approaching the officers.
“This is dumb.”
Viada said they are not trying to keep her and her friends out of the park as long as they follow the rules.
“Rules are made to be broken,” Wellin quickly responded.
Wellin said she felt the complaints against the teenagers were unjustified and that they were all “getting into trouble for stupid stuff.”
She said she and her friends moved to the pier after being told by police to stop hanging around The Gateway transit center nearby.
“It’s a big enough place for us to hang out,” Wellin said.
Joining police at the pier Friday were probation Officer Danetta Rutten and Tracey Lassus, Clallam County’s juvenile deputy prosecutor.
Both said they were there to assist the officers by looking for juveniles who are violating their parole.
By doing so, they hope to make the park more welcoming for other residents.
“Everyone should be able to enjoy the waterfront,” Lassus said.
They estimated that four or five youths were arrested on parole violations during previous visits to the pier in the past few weeks.
While the new park rules may end up being successful at dispersing the teenagers, they don’t address the root of the problem, said Mike Svec, former youth programs director for Serenity House of Clallam County.
Svec, who previously ran the Clallam County YMCA’s Teen Scene, said they simply need a place to go and something to do.
“There isn’t a place for youth to hang out or be themselves,” he said.
The Teen Scene helped fill that need by providing a hangout, complete with indoor skate park and pool tables, for all teenagers and programs aimed at helping those considered “at risk,” Svec said.
It was located in a warehouse at 325 W. Second St. and closed about five years ago.
Police Chief Terry Gallagher said Friday he had not decided whether the patrols at City Pier will continue after this weekend.
“It just depends on what it takes to address” the issue, he said.
Gallagher said the new rules are not meant to keep someone older than 12 from enjoying public playgrounds, as long as they are using it as a playground and not just a place to sit.
“We’re going to try to be [enforcing the rules] in a reasonable fashion,” he said.
A judge would determine the fine for anyone cited with violating the rules.
Gallagher said the law allows that fine to be as high as $500, though he noted that a standard fine for shoplifting is half that amount.
The officers assigned to the patrols are working overtime so that the assignment doesn’t reduce the police’s ability to respond to calls, Gallagher said.
The new park rules aren’t the city’s first attempt at addressing the issue.
Last month, the Red Lion Hotel acted on a suggestion from a police officer by removing large logs the teens frequently sat on in the city right of way on the north side of its parking lot as an attempt to disperse the youths.
At the same time, the Port Angeles Police Department made it policy for officers to patrol the area whenever they have time.
“Really, the most efficient deterrent to bad behavior is the presence of a uniformed police officer,” Gallagher said.
Reporter Tom Callis can be reached at 360-417-3532 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.