Officials respond to rash of violence at Philly parks, rec centers

An increase in after-hours violence and injuries, some fatal, at several Philadelphia parks and recreation centers has officials concerned.

In less than a month, there have been six reported incidents of gun violence at or around parks and recreation centers–Penrose, Cherashore, Kingsessing, Cecil B. Moore, East Poplar. There was also a fatal shooting at Mander Playground.

“The Mander situation at the end of June. That really opened my eyes,” said Leo Dignam, deputy commissioner for programs with the city parks and recreation department.

“I feel like there’s kind of more of a disregard for human life. In the past, sometimes you could say that schools or playgrounds or recreation centers would be no-violence zones or no-gun zones.” Dignam said. “But I’ve seen an up-tick. Especially this season this past summer.”

Parks and Recreation Commissioner Michael DiBerardinis said most of the incidents took place after hours when facilities are closed. His department is looking at ways to work with community groups and police to increase security. With more than 300 neighborhood parks and recreation centers in the city, he said it’s a mammoth task.

“Over the last week or two, I’ve had two or three discussions with my staff ” over possible ways of repsonding to the problem, he said. “So yes, I’m not sure what that is, but the main thing is we want to drop it into our regular discussions with the police department.”

DiBerardinis said whatever efforts they undertake will be folded into their broader, ongoing initiatives to improve safety. For now, he said, there is a round-the-clock police presence at Mander Playground. A police department representative noted there is a decrease in gun violence in the city overall.

This fall, community members will have an opportunity to talk about safety at the city’s parks and recreation sites. Nancy Goldenberg, chairwoman of the Philadelphia Commission on Parks and Recreation, said it’s the No. 1 complaint from the public.

“It is a priority that we hear constantly and I think it is incumbent upon the commission to come up with some policies and strategies to help,” said Goldenberg.

Starting with its September meeting, the commission will ask residents to talk about their safety concerns.

“Anything from a more uniform presence to better lighting, better signage, improved landscaping,” said Goldenberg. “We’ll be listening intently to what they say and see if there are any common concerns and trends.”

The commission also plans to look at best safety practices across the country and gather local data. Then it will send recommendations to Mayor Michael Nutter.

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