Port Richmond and problematic Powers Park

Port Rich­mond neigh­bors have voiced their long­stand­ing con­cerns about un­der­age drink­ing and drug use at the neigh­bor­hood park. Now, they have been prom­ised they will start see­ing res­ults.

Dur­ing the last weeks of Au­gust, neigh­bors who live near Port Rich­mond’s Powers Park gathered, day after day, to de­vel­op a pres­ence in the park they said no longer felt safe.

Star earli­er re­por­ted that one late-sum­mer even­ing this year, the park was filled with teen­agers openly drink­ing, smoking marijuana and ig­nor­ing the pleas of neigh­bors to re­spect the com­munity space.

It was a re­cur­ring prob­lem that seemed to have no solu­tion — the park had be­come so in­filt­rated with scofflaw teen­agers that neigh­bors said great­er ef­forts than their protest would most likely be needed at some time.

Per­haps that time is now.

Lt. Ron­ald Ball of the 24th Po­lice Dis­trict and com­mand­er of the Po­lice Ser­vice Area 3 — where the park is loc­ated — had a prom­ise to share at a Sept. 25 meet­ing of Port Rich­mond on Patrol and Civic and the Port Rich­mond Town Watch.

“I’m go­ing to make a pledge: you’re go­ing to see my guys out there,” he said.

Of­ficers from the 24th Po­lice Dis­trict who at­ten­ded the meet­ing heard firsthand from res­id­ents liv­ing near the park, at Al­mond and Ann streets, about their frus­tra­tion with con­stant marijuana odor prob­lems, noise, and lit­ter in­clud­ing needles in and around the park, a “coke bag”, “blunt shav­ings” and “red Solo cups” used to drink beer.

Res­id­ents de­scribed groups of 30 to 40 in­di­vidu­als, ran­ging in age from 14 to mid-20s or older, con­sist­ing of some neigh­bor­hood kids and some from oth­er neigh­bor­hoods, who have been con­greg­at­ing every week­end and many even­ings to use il­li­cit drugs and drink.

Ball pledged that with­in a month, res­id­ents would see a change.

Some neigh­bors in­sisted that their com­plaints to po­lice had gone un­answered, but po­lice at the meet­ing said they don’t al­ways have suf­fi­cient cause to make an ar­rest when they get calls com­plain­ing about the park.

“My cops alone can­not solve this prob­lem,”  Ball said at one point, stat­ing that if drug sales and use are go­ing on in the park, he would re­quest as­sist­ance from a po­lice nar­cot­ics unit.

Res­id­ents sug­ges­ted bright­er light­ing at the park, or get­ting the pic­nic tables re­moved.  Marc Collazzo, dis­trict of­ficer man­ager for State Rep. John Taylor (R- 177th dist.), who at­ten­ded the meet­ing, said that in­creased light­ing in the park is something that could def­in­itely hap­pen in the near fu­ture.

“What we’re go­ing to try to do is take the park back,” Collazzo said.

He said that neigh­bors should con­tin­ue to gath­er to es­tab­lish a com­munity pres­ence, and should re­port to po­lice any prob­lems they see. He ad­ded that they can ask for po­lice es­corts if ne­ces­sary.

Collazzo also said that 24th Dis­trict Capt. Charles Vo­gt has de­cided to take im­me­di­ate ac­tion on the park after be­ing made aware of res­id­ents’ com­plaints.

But the key, he said, is in­creased par­ti­cip­a­tion by town watch com­munity groups, in con­junc­tion with great­er po­lice activ­ity, be­fore prob­lems worsen and res­id­ents feel they need to take mat­ters in­to their own hands.

“We don’t want people run­ning around with pitch­forks,” Collazzo said.

“Take the park back,” new PRO­PAC pres­id­ent Ken Paul urged res­id­ents.

Paul of­fi­cially took over the role of pres­id­ent after Pat Kozlowski stepped down last week.

“Hold an event, have a movie, in­vite people from the neigh­bor­hood,” Paul said.

Paul told the crowd of more than 60 people that the Friends of the Port Rich­mond Lib­rary, the lib­rary branch be­hind Powers Park, is a com­munity or­gan­iz­a­tion in the area that, with sup­port, could po­ten­tially help ad­dress the qual­ity-of-life con­cerns.

But it may be a case where no one feels safe enough to use the park un­til something is done about the drink­ing and drug use prob­lems there, based on res­id­ents’ stor­ies about the park.

After all, it’s been a year since a day­light beat­ing oc­curred after a re­por­ted mob al­legedly at­tacked a Port Rich­mond man after break­ing down the door of his house at In­di­ana Av­en­ue near Bel­grade Street, just blocks away from the park area.

“Our ba­bies want to grow up with clean air, not pot smoke, beer smell, and needles,” one wo­man said, but de­clined to provide her name.

One res­id­ent showed off a black eye that neigh­bors said he re­ceived after someone in the park al­legedly slugged him, after he tried to re­quest that they leave.

Res­id­ent Matt Wasco, 47, said that just walk­ing through the park with his son was be­com­ing a stress­ful ex­per­i­ence due to people us­ing the park as an il­li­cit hang-out.

“Walk­ing through there, I felt a chill down my spine. I felt like I was go­ing to have to de­fend my­self,” Wasco said at the meet­ing. “I’m think­ing, ‘How am I go­ing to get my 12-year-old out? And which one am I tak­ing first?’”

Ball prom­ised changes will be made.

“From this day for­ward,” he said, “There’s go­ing to be some lock ups.”

Re­port­er Sam Ne­w­house can be reached at sne­w­house@bsmphilly.com.

You can reach at snewhouse@bsmphilly.com.

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