Medford weighs new rule for park behavior

Athree-strike rule has been proposed by police as a way to ban people from all Medford parks if they repeatedly engage in criminal behavior.

Medford police have proposed an ordinance that would exclude people from city parks if they commit three or more criminal offenses at any of the city's parks.

Medford police Chief Tim George acknowledged however, that such a rule could face challenges.

"It may be problematic legally," he told the City Council Thursday.

An existing exclusion ordinance took effect in November 2011 that would ban someone engaged in criminal behavior from a specific park for 30 days. On the second offense, the exclusion would be for 90 days, then 180 days for the third offense. But the exclusion applies only for the park in which the offense was committed.

George said police would like to ban an offender from all city parks after the third, or possibly fourth, criminal incident.

Police said that after the city adopted the exclusion ordinance, some offenders would just move to another park and engage in the same bad behavior.

In 2012, Medford police issued 171 exclusion notices in parks because of criminal behavior that included fighting, drinking and drug use.

Hawthorne Park topped the list for the number of exclusions at 93. After the exclusions, police said, they noticed a drop in crime by the end of last summer.

A core group of 25 individuals racked up 70 of the 171 exclusions, police said.

City officials are considering whether any legal issues could arise from excluding an offender from all parks if he or she engages in criminal activity at only one park.

Kevin McConnell, a deputy city attorney, said the city has to avoid enforcement actions that could infringe on the civil liberties of any group of individuals.

George said any ordinance would be carefully reviewed before it comes to the council for a vote.

Hawthorne Park is well known as a hangout for the homeless, but George said no one would be excluded merely for being homeless.

"This has never been an issue of being an anti-homeless ordinance," George said.

Making Hawthorne a safe park for families has become a priority for city officials as they decide how to spend $1 million to improve the 20-acre green belt in the middle of Medford.

The park has seen stabbings, harassments and thefts, at times creating an intimidating atmosphere. The downtown park is known as "the living room" among the homeless, who congregate there in part because they can easily access food and other services nearby.

George said he supported any efforts by the city to increase the number of activities in the park to discourage bad behavior.

"The culture and atmosphere at Hawthorne Park would change dramatically," he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or email dmann@mailtribune.com.


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