An effort to curtail vagrancy and public safety issues at Turlock parks by modifying the hours led to an overall reduction in calls for service, according to the Turlock Police Department.
At the end of July 2018, the Turlock City Council voted to change the hours at all city parks were open to the public from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. to dusk. The change was made with the condition that the Turlock Police Department would come back in January 2019, with a report reflecting what the outcomes were of the hour changes, if any.
On Tuesday, Turlock Police Chief Nino Amirfar reported the change in hours led to an overall reduction in calls for service at the city parks by 17 percent. When factoring in extra patrols performed around the parks the decline was 40 percent.
“Closing the parks at dusk has led to a reduction in calls for service,” Amirfar said.
The change in hours was born out of a desire to address the number of municipal code violations, like camping, and crimes that were occurring with a growing frequency at the city parks. Originally, the proposal was just for the three parks that were having the most calls for service related to municipal code violations, which were Denair, Central and GAR parks. The city council opted in the end to make the hour changes apply to all the parks.
The report looked at the calls for service at the parks during a six-month period from July 1 to Dec. 31 in 2017 and in that same time frame in 2018, when the hours were modified. Some parks, both large and small, saw noticeable declines once the hour changes were instated. Donnelly Park, which had seen a number of robberies in 2017, including one that led to the death of one man, saw a drop of 49 percent, according to the police department’s report. In 2017, the park had 231 calls for service and in 2018 there were 117.
The report also showed that the hour change had little effect on the calls for service, like GAR Park, which had five calls for service in the 2017 time period and six in the same time frame in 2018.
Broadway Park actually had a 181 percent increase in calls for service during the time period studied, but the increase was largely due to a change in the law. In the 2017 time period there were 74 calls for service at the park, while during the same time frame in 2018 there were 208 calls for service. However, in 2018, the Court of Appeals Ninth Circuit ruled that it is cruel and unusual punishment and a violation of the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution to prosecute homeless individuals for sleeping on the streets when there is no shelter available. This meant that homeless individuals could sleep in the park without being in violation of the city’s municipal code, though they would be in violation if they erected a tent or stored their belongings there for 24 hours or more. These types of municipal code violations made up a bulk of the calls for service at Broadway park during the later months of 2018.
The city council did not take any action on the report on Tuesday. If they opt to make the dusk to dawn hours permanent, they would need to change the city’s municipal code.