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Bay Creek Park concerns

Bay Creek Park concerns
By John L. Byrwa

A little more than an hour after Gwinnett County Police Chief Butch Ayers informed a gathering of Grayson-area residents that an arrest warrant had been issued for the person who authorities believe was responsible for the Oct. 9 shooting at Bay Creek Park in Loganville, a suspect was arrested and placed into police custody.

Dallas Chandler Root, 19, was arrested on Oct. 21, 2015 without incident by officers assigned to the South Precinct Evening Watch, K9 Unit, Criminal Investigations–Gang Unit, and the Snellville Police Department, at a house located in the 1900 block of North Road in Snellville around 9 p.m. in connection with the shooting at the popular park on Ozora Road. The shooting was caught on cell phone video and spurred a concerned community into action.

POLICE 2190Right: Gwinnnett County Police regularly patrol Bay Creek  Park and were on hand to answer any questions.

Charged with aggravated assault and reckless conduct, Root, a resident of Conyers who, according to police records, was also arrested last year on a drug charge, was being held in the Gwinnett County Jail without bond.

According to Ayers, Root and another person became involved in a dispute while playing basketball at one of the courts near the entrance to the park. Ayers said a third person tried to intervene, at which point that person and Root began to argue. That’s when, according to Ayers, Root retrieved a gun and began shooting at the second person, who fled into the nearby woods and escaped injury. No one else was injured in the incident, and Ayers said that Root and another man fled the scene in a green SUV.

The shooting, which was first reported by WSB-TV, shocked residents of nearby neighborhoods and prompted them to request a face-to-face meeting with Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners Chairman Charlotte Nash. The meeting, which also included Grayson District Commissioner Tommy Hunter, Deputy County Administrator Phil Hoskins, Ayers and several members of the Gwinnett County Police Department, was held Oct. 21 at 6:30 p.m. inside an open-air pavilion at Bay Creek Park, just a few hundred yards from where the shooting occurred.

charlotte190Left: Chairman Charlotte Nash addresses and listens to the Grayson community concerns.

Joining the more than 75 residents in attendance were approximately 20 young people who frequent the skate park. During the civil and orderly 90-minute meeting, Nash, Hunter and Ayers each addressed the gathering then answered questions and responded to concerns from the residents and the skateboarders.

“One of the things I wanted to emphasize is that no one here is interested in closing any part of the park,” Jessie Harris, a five-year resident of Gwinnett and frequent park patron, told the gathering. “Nobody wants that. We understand that (the skate park and basketball courts) are havens for kids needing an outlet.

“What we want to make sure of is that everyone who is using them is safe, is watched and it’s an environment where anyone who comes to the park wishing to do ill will is discouraged.”

Chief among the residents’ suggestions were to explore closing the lighted, 154-acre park earlier than its present 11 p.m. closing time, installing security cameras or other technology to monitor activity in the park, and increased police patrols.

According to Nash, the county will explore all possible courses of action, including proceeding with the building of a police precinct inside the park, which has been in the works since it was appropriated with the passage of the 2009 SPLOST (special-purpose local-option sales tax) program.

However, Nash said that the county still must clear a few hurdles before the precinct is completed.

 “It costs a lot of money and a lot of police officers to cover a precinct,” Nash said. “Remember, they work 24-7, and it takes 5.2 to 5.5 individuals to cover one actual position. So to have an officer on shift 24 hours, seven days a week we need more than five officers to fill that shift. And it takes about 75 positions to man a police precinct, and if you add that up, it’s millions (of dollars).

“We have a plan as to how we’re going to work on the staffing, and the first part of that plan is part of my proposed budget. We know that it is a priority, and we’re at the point to where we think we have the financial ability to begin the process of hiring the staff and training the staff that it will take to run it.”

According to Ayers, serious crime at any of the county’s 37 public parks, which encompass some 9,600 acres, is very low.

“The parks are relatively safe,” Ayers said. “Typically – and I don’t want to say they’re not serious – but typically you’ll have illegal parking, some kids being loud or running around, and there might be a fight here or there. Probably the most serious things we see are people breaking into cars.

“But typically you don’t have a lot of serious crime at all.”

Still, he said, his police force is diligent in patrolling the parks and doing its best to deter any kind of criminal activity.

“One of the things we do in county parks is we conduct area checks,” Ayers said. “In 2014, in this particular park, we were here over 1,200 times. So far this year, it’s been over 1,000 times. So there is a presence here. Now, we don’t like to say we’re going to be here every night at 10 o’clock, because people who are up to mischief know that.”

One of the main concerns mentioned by residents was how late the Bay Creek Park lights remained on each day. Presently, because Bay Creek is classified as an “active” park (“passive” parks do not provide lighting), county ordinance stipulates that the lights must remain on until at least 10 p.m. Turning off the lights earlier, some said, might help deter crime or mischief.

 “A lot of people think that 11 o’clock is an unreasonable hour for the park to be open and that nobody needs to be out here that late at night,” Harris said. “But if it is going to be open that late, there needs to be some kind of police presence here to make sure that if there are people here late at night, they’re here to enjoy the park and not here to start trouble.”

At least one of the skateboarders in attendance pointed out that how long the lights remained on was not the biggest issue facing officials.

“I was actually here when the incident happened,” one of the skateboarders said. “And I see your point about the lights, but it’s not going to change whether it’s seven in the morning or seven at night. If there are bad people coming here, they’re going to cause trouble.”

While Nash said she could not provide any immediate solutions to the residents’ concerns, nor would she provide a timetable for any possible action, she said she was confident the county will work to make all parks safe, and that she was more than encouraged by the number of concerned citizens willing to come together and work to find ways to keep Bay Creek Park safe and welcoming.

 “The worst kind of situation is the community where the individuals are not concerned, or maybe they’ve given up and think that there’s nothing they can do to change things,” Nash said. “Having this kind of group here tonight was a good thing. And the other positive was the civility with which they treated each other. That’s definitely one of my aims with these kinds of community sessions.”