When is public safety too much public safety? Apparently when it involves fencing and locked gates, a majority of the New Port Richey City Council decided last week. In response to complaints from many residents about a rising wave of community crime, city officials have been trying to come up with an anti-crime measure to reassure the populace. Last Wednesday night, council reviewed a proposal to combat nighttime vagrancy in and around Sims Park. One such proposal, installing fencing around a portion of Sims Park and the adjacent Gene Sarazen Overlook tower, got a cold shoulder from a majority of council members. Councilwoman Judy DeBella Thomas said the fencing would create a “jail cell” atmosphere and spoil the “welcoming” spirit of the park and tower on the Pithlachascotee River. Councilman Jeff Starkey, on the other hand, liked the fence-and-gate proposal, saying it would aid efforts to keep vagrants and other “undesirables” away from the park area at night. Police Chief Kim Bogart, however, suggested that anyone determined to sleep in the tower or park would probably just climb over the fence. We suppose the city could have make that less of a likelihood by installing razor wire at the top of the fence, but that definitely would create a jail atmosphere.
In the end, with Starkey in dissent, council decided to forgo the fencing and instead increase the lighting in the park area and install more signs that say the park is closed at night. That was the correct call. The places to concentrate on public safety are the city’s neighborhoods.