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Councilman displeased over vagrants at city park; RPD says arrests alone can't fix problem

Sep 4, 2012 - By Emily Etheredge, Staff Writer

Riverton City Councilman Richard Gard is concerned about problems with littering and homeless people at City Park.

"I would like to discuss with this council what we want happening at City Park," Gard told council members. "There are six people currently inhabiting the bathrooms. The band shell is being totally misused. It is a real problem."

Gard targeted the Riverton Police Department for not being as responsive as they should by saying if someone is littering in the park, they should be arrested.

"I don't care if it is my family or someone else's, if they are littering, they should be arrested," Gard said. "I have no racial bones about this. I would like to see those that litter get fined."

Gard said sleeping in the bathrooms when the park is closed at midnight is unacceptable and asked police chief Mike Broadhead whether citizens should call the police if they see someone sleeping in the park.

RPD overloaded

Broadhead said he agreed with Gard that anyone littering in the city should be cited. He also said that Riverton faces issues that are more common in large cities.

"Most cities our size don't deal with homeless people, the mentally ill, or the publicly intoxicated," Broadhead said. "The idea that we can somehow arrest ourselves out of the problem is not feasible."

Broadhead commended his officers, saying he thinks they do an "exemplary" job for the number of problems they deal with on a daily basis.

"There are times I feel like our officers in Riverton are standing underneath a waterfall with a Dixie cup trying to catch water," Broadhead said. "We have complaints of people not only at City Park, but at other parks throughout Riverton. If resources were not an issue we could do a better job."

Broadhead said many police officers who commit to working in Riverton become disillusioned as they see what their duties are.

He reminded council members he formed a committee earlier in the spring to address some of the alcohol issues in Riverton.

"Riverton didn't get into this problem overnight," Broadhead said. "My goal is in five years we are addressing the issues that we have in a different way than we are now. We need to acknowledge the depth of the problem."

Gard said he wanted to be helpful to the police department and suggested a civilian police force that would have the ability to move crowds and give citations for low level misdemeanors.

"Those that live in this city have surrendered City Park up for a long time," Gard said. "Public urination is so bad you can't even use the band shelter. I think the bathrooms need to be locked at night."

Gard said he had respect for the police officers on the street but somehow the community needed to become more involved.

"The park maintenance employees can't even touch the door knobs to the bathrooms with their hands because it's so bad," Gard said. "They have to pull their shirts down to turn the handle. There are problems so bad I can't even repeat them over an open microphone, and we are expecting the general public to use those restrooms?"

Gard said Riverton had given up on City Park and until the problems were addressed, the issues at the park would never get better.

"Any suggestions anyone has, I would like to hear them," Gard said. "I would like to see the youth back in our park. It isn't a racial problem. We have to get our hands around it."

Public services director Bill Urbigkit said the parks department and police department were in this together.

"I want to make it clear that the parks department is not suggesting we are not getting support from the police department," Urbigkit said. "That is not true. The police department cannot be everywhere at once."

Broadhead said he didn't want to come across as defensive.

"We are working toward solutions, and I really think we can win this battle," Broadhead said.