Inappropriate, or “anti-social,” behavior in Johnson City parks has been a problem for some time. A recent incident witnessed firsthand by a member of city administration has led to some stepped-up efforts at alleviating this issue.
On June 25, several city officials, including Assistant City Manager Charlie Stahl, were touring parks as part of a turf improvement project.
During a developing thunderstorm at Winged Deer Park, Stahl and others noticed “odd behavior” from some park patrons, including some individuals remaining outside to read a newspaper.
Furthermore, upon entering the men’s restroom near the Winged Deer soccer fields, Stahl happened upon two men who were engaging in what Stahl referred to as “anti-social behavior.”
“I asked a park employee to also go in and confirm that I saw what I thought I was seeing,” Stahl said. “Even then, they were persistent in wanting to remain in the restroom.
“Shortly thereafter, a young child came along and was needing to enter the restroom. That’s when it really hit me that something more needed to be done.”
Since that time, both the Johnson City Police Department and the Parks and Recreation Department have stepped up efforts to curtail such activity, while further measures are in the works.
The JCPD has maintained a park presence for years, specifically with Officer Bob Odom. However, staffing limitations mean the police cannot patrol all parks at all times.
To that end, Stahl and Parks and Recreation Director Tom Alexander have directed all park employees to not only be vigilant, but also proactive in asking park patrons who exhibit this “antisocial” behavior to leave and immediately contact police if they do not comply.
“With the resources they have, our police have really done a good job,” Stahl said. “It’s just going to take everybody working together on this.”
In addition, restroom maintenance and cleaning schedules have been altered and another employee added on a different cycle to ensure that someone is able to monitor each park restroom at least every two hours.
Within a few days after these changes were implemented, JCPD officers responded to city parks and issued several citations. Since that time, this unwanted behavior has significantly decreased, Stahl said.
“My understanding is it has improved,” Stahl said. “We had these things happening not just in the restrooms but in cars and even on picnic tables.
“It’s happening not only in a public park but in full public view. ”
In some restrooms where the problem is especially persistent and difficult to monitor, stall doors have been removed to discourage interaction. Some stall walls have had to be replaced because of the practice of drilling holes for discreet interaction, Stahl said.
Lighting has been improved in some places, restrooms are being locked after operating hours, and there are ongoing discussions about adding more gates in some areas.
Early morning, during the noon lunch hour and late at night are the time periods when these offenses most often occur, Stahl said. Winged Deer Park, Buffalo Mountain Park and Willow Springs Park see most of this type of activity, he said.
“We’re happy to have our parks available for public use, but we won’t tolerate this anti-social behavior or illegal activities,” Stahl said.
“We’ll continue to monitor activity at all parks, make every attempt to be proactive, and make changes as necessary.”