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Keeping our parks safe and clean is a job for all citizens
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Now that March has arrived, spring is just days away (March 20, to be exact), marking the next step in the progression of the seasons. There will still be plenty of opportunity for rain and storms through mid-May, but the average daily temperature is definitely on the upward swing. Daylight Saving also starts on March 14th, when we will set our clocks back one hour. This means there will be sunlight later into the evenings and more activity in the community parks as a result of the improving weather and longer days.

Parks and sports fields are the gems of any community. They can be among the best places to be - or among the worst - depending on what community members demand of them. And working hand-in-hand with the police, Ceres citizens can enjoy parks that are clean and safe for the whole family.

Through experience, we have found that it is important to get a "good start" with the parks early in the season. This means that the police and citizens need to stop problems before they really take hold. If we wait for the gangs to stake out "territory" in the parks, allow acts of vandalism or trash to accumulate, or if people are allowed to violate the various park rules before the beginning of the season, then it becomes a much bigger challenge to reverse the problems than if they were thwarted early on.

A word about gangs in our parks: to be sure, no gangs will be taking over our parks. Any "takeover" will be by law-abiding citizens, who have rightful access to all public parks, along with having the expectation to be free from harassment and intimidation. The police will see to that, with the public's help, the parks will be used as intended by our city fathers and citizens alike. One of the best methods to keep our parks safe and suitable for family use is for law-abiding citizens to use them frequently and to dominate them. Citizens in the parks need to report all criminal or suspicious activities to the police without delay.

Litter is among one of the more common problems with our parks. Litter clean-up, especially after weekends, is a major and costly chore for city crews. Litter also suggests to criminals that "we don't care" and are less likely to report acts of vandalism or other crimes. Contrarily, a clean park reflects community pride and that people will be quick to report transgressions to the police. For those who choose to litter, be advised that police and code enforcement personnel will be quick to cite violators.

Alcohol in the local parks is illegal, with exceptions only made by a special [limited] permit issued by the Chief of Police. Alcohol has been a factor in most instances of fights or other problems in the parks. Intoxicated people are more likely to litter, fight and create disturbances. Since our parks are intended for family-oriented activities, alcohol and other drugs are prohibited and violations will be strictly enforced.

Vehicles are never allowed in our parks, except for police, fire, medical and city crews. Citizens may only drive on designated roadways and in the parking lots. Driving on the lawns and pathways is prohibited, and there is no exception for setting up picnic areas, etc.

When driving around parks, please drive carefully and be on the alert for hazards such as balls rolling into traffic, children stepping off sidewalks or crossing the street, sharing the road with bicyclists, etc. Drivers must also be aware of other drivers who may not be paying attention, picking up or dropping off children, looking for parking, or pulling out of parking places. Drivers should use common sense, drive slowly, expect traffic around parks, and use extra caution.

Dogs must be on a leash at all times for safety reasons, especially insofar as children are concerned. Also, dog fights are common and very dangerous when their handlers are unable to control them. It is important for pet owners to be responsible for their animals, as dog feces is also a problem in our parks. Pet owners must clean-up after their pets without delay.

We know that many citizens are not convinced that our parks are always safe or free from quality-of-life detractors. It need not be so, and the parks should be safe places for the citizens of our community to take their families. It is simply a matter of the community making clear its intolerance of the people who trash and commit crime in our parks, and for the police to work in close collaboration with those who seek the best for our city. Our department is committed to working on this problem, and we are taking steps now to ensure the parks can be enjoyed safely this season.