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ANAHEIM : Neighbors Plan to ‘Take Back’ Park

Neighbors of Pearson Park are planning a ceremony next week “to take back the park,” which they say is being overrun by drug pushers and other criminals.

Scheduled for 9 a.m. Dec. 13, the marchers will unveil seven “Park Watch” signs throughout the park warning would-be wrongdoers that they intend to call the police if they spot any criminal activity. This is the first time in Anaheim that neighbors have agreed to a campaign to reduce crime in a park.

“This is not a situation that just happened overnight, and it is not something that is going to be easy to fix,” said John Rodenbour, who is organizing the neighborhood campaign. “But we are in it for the long haul, and hopefully the day will come when drug dealers will think it is stupid to come here.”

Located near downtown, Pearson Park is the oldest park in the city and is noted for its stream, cactus garden and 2,100-seat amphitheater.

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But residents say over the years it has also become noted for drug transactions and other violations, such as public intoxication and homeless people using the restrooms for sexual activity.

A police study last spring, however, said reports of criminal activity in Pearson Park are no higher than in other parts of the city, although it is known that drug dealing or other crimes occur in the park almost daily.

The issue of crime in the park began to boil last year after a coach at neighboring St. Boniface Catholic School noticed as he practiced with his team that drug dealers and users were selling and ingesting drugs in the open, and he found used hypodermic needles in the grass, Rodenbour said. The coach asked if he could move his practices to another park.

“But the principal said, ‘Let’s fight for this park because it is our park,’ ” Rodenbour said. So Rodenbour, a member of the church and a nearby resident, volunteered to head a committee and began to talk to his neighbors.

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“Since June we have been having neighborhood meetings every month, and I ask, ‘What have you seen in the park, and did you call the police?’ ” Rodenbour said. “And if the person said they didn’t call, I ask them why.”

Chris Jarvi, the city’s park director, said his department has been working with Rodenbour’s group. He said that while rangers patrol the park, they can use the extra eyes.


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