A special meeting of the Pender Village Board was held Tuesday night at the fire hall to discuss concerns about vandalism and general safety for children at the city park.
Complaints voiced by residents dating back nearly a year prompted the meeting, which was attended by all five members of the board and three members of the Thurston County Sheriff’s office, including Sheriff Shelly Perez.
Among the safety concerns have reportedly been physical and verbal fights among juveniles, as well as foul language at times that one parent in attendance said can make visiting the park an unpleasant experience for her and her younger children during those times.
Vandalism, such as scattered trash, carvings in picnic tables and the placement of feces in several areas, including on children’s playground equipment, is another matter that has soured many parents in the community from allowing their children to visit the park in recent months.
The purpose of the meeting was to obtain feedback from residents and discuss possible action that the village, community members and law enforcement might make to solve the problems.
Board member Matt Torczon said the village should have recommendations and rough costs for video surveillance of the park by the end of this week. Perez noted that such evidence would be useful in prosecuting any lawbreakers, but she said that cameras won’t generally prevent crimes in the first place.
Beyond increased police presence from the county, which was assured by Perez, the idea of organizing a neighborhood watch was also floated and may be pursued.
“This is a difficult problem,” board chairman Bill Newton said. “There isn’t any one answer.”
About three dozen residents attended the meeting, and several of them shared ideas. Among the most popular was having law enforcement speak directly with students at the school to explain to them how they can report what they see to police.
“It makes our job so much easier if people can report something immediately,” Perez said.
Due to Pender’s place within the exterior boundaries of the Omaha Indian Reservation, Perez noted that potential crimes
involving tribal members are handled differently than they are for other citizens.
For example, county law enforcement can only detain Native American suspects and must wait for Omaha Nation Tribal Police to arrive and make any arrests. Those cases are processed by the tribal court.
Assault cases can be even more complicated and can easily become federal matters if they involve Native Americans or a blend of native and non-native people.
Board member Andy Welsh encouraged community members to keep the park as part of their regular activities.
He said the more people who take their kids there, the more eyes there will be at the park to discourage those who might do damage to it to stay away or behave.
The issue will be an ongoing one for the board. Any citizens who see something suspicious are encouraged to call 911 or to gather photographic/video evidence, when possible, and provide it to police.
Ideas on possible solutions are also encouraged to be called into the village office or to board members.
Longtime area resident Wanda Kelly, who has put countless hours with others into adding young trees to the park the past two decades, said anything that would keep people from enjoying the park is disheartening.
“For 25 years, we’ve been working to make it what it had been in the past. It did my heart so good to see kids down there having a good time. And this just makes me sick,” Kelly said.