Restroom buildings in Salt Lake City and West Valley City parks are being replaced by structures that discourage crime, sexual activity and harassment, officials say.
And, while other communities in the Salt Lake area are concerned about the safety of their parks, they are dealing with the problem in different ways.- Salt Lake County, for instance, is trying to schedule more programs in its problem parks, the theory being that a lot of good people will scare away the bad.
- Murray officials said they've increased the number of police officers patrolling city parks.
Park safety has become a concern valleywide, and the concern is centered on restrooms, where much of the crime occurs. In Salt Lake City, officials have removed restrooms from Pioneer Park. In Jordan Park, as in others, the biggest problem is sexual activity.
Salt Lake Police Lt. Stephen Chapman said virtually every park in Salt Lake City has a problem with crime and sexual activity.
City Parks Director John Gust said the restrooms in several city parks have been destroyed and replaced with facilities that feature an outside door for every stall. Sinks for washing hands are placed outdoors.
"These are pretty nice-looking," Gust said. "We picked up this idea out of Phoenix. As budgets will allow, we'll just slowly work our way through the parks system."
Gust said it costs the city about $35,000 to build one of the new restroom buildings, an amount he said is considerably less than the older conventional restrooms cost. The new restrooms include storage rooms for park equipment.
So far, the restrooms seem to be deterring undesirable activity. "We've almost gotten rid of the problem completely," he said.
Chapman said he expects the new restrooms to help. "At least it's going to stop (involvement) with the little kid who walks in on someone," he said.
In Pioneer Park, restrooms have been replaced temporarily with portable toilets. "We don't know yet what we're going to do there," Gust said, noting that the park is not near a neighborhood and is filled with transients.
West Valley Public Works Director Russell Willardson said his city has developed a restroom similar to the one Salt Lake City is using for a new park being developed at 6000 W. 4100 South.
That design will also employ the principal of individual stalls with outside doors to eliminate the opportunity for illicit contacts.
"We've had the same sort of problems other cities have had, and we came up with this design," he said.
Salt Lake County
Some parks in unincorporated areas also are plagued with crime and sexual activity. Bruce Henderson, director of the county's park operations, said the county believes criminals will be scared away if more people frequent the parks.
"We used to have a problem in Harmony Park," he said. "That diminished as we got more programs in place there."
The county particularly is concerned with Oxbow Park, located near 3300 South and the Jordan River. The park is away from subdivisions and other populated areas.
Sugarhouse Park, which the county maintains, used to have trouble with sexual activity in the thick growth near Highland High School. But the county cleared the growth and the problem subsided, Henderson said.
Problems in Murray's main park are more prevalent during the winter when few people frequent the facilities, said Bill Crocker, superintendent of parks and recreation.
"Naturally there is a continuing problem with homosexual activity, but it has decreased over the years with our close work with the Police Department," Crocker said. "On a daily basis, day and night, they patrol the parks to prevent the gathering of undesirables. We don't want them, period.
"As soon as we open up pavilions to families, it cuts down on undesirable activity, which also means vandalism."
Crocker advised people not to frequent wooded, unpatroled areas. That's where the undesirables have gone in Murray's parks.
Sandy has little problem with crime in its parks, said Mike Shea, parks and recreation director. This time of year all restrooms are closed so pipes don't freeze. Only city maintenance men are there, sandblasting and painting over graffiti.
"Graffiti breeds more graffiti, so we try to get rid of it fast," he said.
South Salt Lake
The city also claims to have few problems in its parks, despite its proximity to Salt Lake City. In the spring, officers check the restrooms regularly, locking them nightly at 10.
"We do have a bit of vandalism, but I think everyone is getting that," said South Salt Lake Police Chief Val W. Bess.