By Lee Reinsch
DE PERE — Concerns at Voyageur Park – including noise from vehicles and loitering by young people – and possible solutions filled much of the Tuesday, June 7 City Council meeting – an issue that has caused headaches for area residents and city staff for the past few years.
Lawton Foundry apartment resident Brenda Busch said because of issues such as these – vehicles parking her guests in, catcalls and a general sense of intimidation – she isn’t comfortable going outside in the early evening.
Park user and Alderperson Amy Chandik Kundinger said she too has experienced similar issues – having to walk out of her way to get to her vehicle and feeling uneasy in the park in the evenings.
City Administrator Larry Delo said though he understands the concerns, drawing a blanket ban on loiterers requires a delicate balance, as some people, such as those having lunch in their cars or pausing to look at the river, could be considered to be “loitering” even if they aren’t causing the problems that are making residents miserable.
“Obviously, we don’t want to get rid of those people,” Delo said.
Mayor James Boyd said he is frustrated by the problem.
“We genuinely feel for residents and those who live nearby who are experiencing this,” Boyd said. “We feel your pain.”
Police Chief Jeremy Muraski presented a rundown of the number and types of calls his department receives in regards to the area.
Since January, Muraski said it has received 75 calls regarding issues in or around Voyageur Park.
However, only 12 of those calls resulted in police reports, including three citations for disorderly conduct, four citations for disorderly conduct with a motor vehicle, two incidences of property damage (a boardwalk light and bathroom towel dispenser with no suspects), one general disturbance, one citation for drug paraphernalia and one report of a no-contact order being breached.
Some of the disturbances Muraski listed include: blocking traffic in the lot, loitering, playing loud music from vehicles, tire squealing, reckless driving and harassing female trail users.
He said some of the behavior spills out onto nearby streets — William, Cass and Broadway — affecting traffic going to and from the park.
Muraski said the typical crowd member tends to range in age from about 16-23, and from all over: Luxembourg, Casco, New Franken, Howard, Pulaski and elsewhere.
“We see De Pere kids we know from being in the schools,” he said. “De Pere kids are mostly well-behaved.”
To combat the issue, Muraski said his department has tried a number of things, such as park evictions, zero tolerance and citations, and stepping up its bicycle patrol, a measure he feels is effective without being heavy-handed.
He said the “flamingo,” a trailer with five surveillance cameras in the center of the park, has a viewing range of much of Voyageur Park.
Alderperson Dean Raasch said he’s not sure if it’s serving its purpose, noting he sometimes visits the area after meetings and sees young people sitting on the flamingo with drink cups.
“There really is no respect for what we’re doing down there,” he said. “It’s like a cat and mouse game.”
Raasch said the kids move from vehicle to vehicle, and if he were a person wanting to walk on the trail, he would not feel comfortable.
“It’s a little intimidating,” he said.
Alderperson Pamela Gantz said she too feels intimidated, and if she feels that way, others are likely to as well.
“My concern is this is our big park, and we want people to be able to come and enjoy themselves,” she said. “We don’t want them to be intimidated or afraid and to go somewhere else.”
Muraski said no one solution could fix the problem.
“There’s going to be a variety of things in our tool kit,” he said.
Ring Doorbell cameras, revised ordinances, restricted parking, park eviction and citations are a few ideas he said are on the table.
Delo suggested what he described as “aggressive observation” — letting the crowds know you see them.
“Park right next to them,” he said.
Delo said education and talking to residents hasn’t been the answer.
Muraski said with school now out, the department will establish that tone of aggressive observation early on.
Gantz said she believes the city needs to do something now, because summer means more kids will be out.
“We don’t want people to feel like they have to hide in their businesses or apartments,” she said.
Muraski said the number of phone calls about Voyageur is fairly low.
He encouraged people to call as soon as they see something, and to not wait.
“Call, call, call,” he said.
No action was taken Tuesday, but Boyd said city staff would discuss solutions, such as tightening ordinances and restricting parking, along with other ideas, and bring them to a future meeting.