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ORANGE COUNTY PERSPECTIVE : Retaking a Park for People

It’s a mystery how a park in a nice neighborhood gets a reputation for drug dealing, but that’s what has happened to Pearson Park in Anaheim. When neighborhood residents complained several months ago, city officials asked for help from the community--and they got it.

Last week, after months of meetings between residents and the city, about 100 neighbors launched Park Watch. The program involves residents walking through Pearson Park daily on the alert for illegal drug activities.

Park Watch is an excellent example of what a community like Anaheim can do for itself when it gets angry enough not to take it anymore.

Pearson Park, the city’s oldest, is no down-and-out “Needle Park.” But, like that infamous New York City haven for drug dealers, it somehow has become a center of drug activity for the area. Police believe that Pearson Park’s location near the interchange of the Santa Ana Freeway and Harbor Boulevard has been a factor. Also, Anaheim has a high number of outside visitors because of Disneyland, and a plethora of people who well can afford to buy drugs.

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For some time, residents have been feeling that the park is no longer safe for families.

Park Watch already is helping reclaim Pearson for its intended purpose. Neighbors will take turns patrolling the park, thus affording an important presence by residents. Those involved have been trained to watch for evidence of drug dealing--quick meetings between people, exchanges of money or people hiding things in the shrubbery. Police already have stepped up surveillance, which also will help.

Park Watch will require a commitment from residents long after the novelty has worn off. In time, it may prove to be a heartening example of what can be done to take back parks that have been overrun by criminals.


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