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City won't close parks at night
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Ceres councilmen rejected a dusk-to-dawn ban on park use designed to curb illegal activities, saying it would penalize the law-abiding public.

"We do have a problem in the parks," said City Manager Brad Kilger, who suggested the council revisiting the issue in the near future. "We cannot put enough people out there to take care of the problems."

The proposed park curfew, as offered up by the Ceres Police Department, was designed to give officers the legal right to stop anyone in a park during dark hours. Officers are limited to consensual contact with people hanging out in the parks between dusk and dawn.

Police were recommending that all parks be closed to public use between dusk to dawn with the exception of lighted park, where the ban would start at 11 p.m.

The council has been concerned about park safety, particularly after incidents involving robberies and gang-related shootings in Smyrna Park, Ceres' largest park. Earlier this year the council ordered gates installed at Smyrna Park and ordered them locked to prevent access to parking lots at night. The city also hired Ontel, a private security firm, to make three rounds per night in Smyrna and Ceres Riverbluff Regional parks. The firm has had an impact on trouble-makers in the park, said Mike Borges, commander of the Ceres Police Division of the Department of Public Safety. During the first month approximately 50 contacts were made in Smyrna Park by Ontel officers. They have dropped ever since.

The council tabled the proposal after considering public testimony and considering how the ban would affect innocent users.

Leonard Shepherd, who lives near Smyrna Park, said a quick short-cut through the park between his home and the store would mean him breaking the law.

"You're just creating another crime," he told the council. "Why make it a crime to walk across the park?"

Shepherd said that police already have laws to enforce for public drunkenness, drug sales, vandalism and mischief. He suggested expanding Ontel's contract since the patrols have been successful.

Steve Breckenridge had a different take, saying the criminals would violate the new law but the law abiders would not be around to help report criminal deeds.

Mayor Anthony Cannella said he hated to think that enjoying the park with his wife, watching stars at night, would be an infraction.

Councilman Chris Vierra said he couldn't see enacting the park use at night since Ontel's park contacts are shrinking due to their effectiveness.