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 firstname.lastname@example.org.