Laramie City Councilman Charles McKinney expressed concerns during the Laramie City Council’s Tuesday meeting with a change to city park rules that would make all parks closed from midnight-5 a.m. each night, saying it wouldn’t make a difference.
The proposed amended ordinance presented to Council would clarify the rules at the city’s parks, including a rule outlining the park hours. Assistant City Manager Todd Feezer said the updated rules were created and approved by the city’s voluntary Parks, Tree and Recreation Board in November and December.
The reasoning for the updated hours, Feezer explained to Council, was to try to prevent the trouble that can appear late at night.
“Far and wide, most of our vandalism occurs during these hours,” Feezer said. “We’d rather eliminate people from congregating in the parks at these times.”
However, Councilman McKinney expressed concerns repeatedly during the meeting that the proposed rule regarding closure times wouldn’t change anything, saying it “makes no sense” to him.
“My problem with this whole thing, just that one simple piece, is hey, we have a couple bad apples and we’re going to ruin it for everybody else in the city,” McKinney said. “I get that bad things happen after midnight, I understand, but we shouldn’t take away the right for somebody to go walk through the park.”
The intent behind the ordinance change wasn’t to be overreaching, Mayor Joe Shumway said, but instead was to make the parks safer by making it easier for the Laramie Police Department to enforce potential suspicious situations.
The police have the power to make arrests and give citations for suspicious behavior during any time of day, McKinney countered, regardless of park hours.
LPD Assistant Chief Robert Terry said the new rules would make it easier for LPD to enforce potential suspicious activity at night instead of reacting to vandalism the day after.
“There has to be a reason for me to contact somebody,” Terry said. “If there’s an ordinance that says you’re not supposed to be in this park from 12 a.m. to 5 a.m., there’s a violation of law there and that gives us a little bit more power.”
Feezer noted the rules and closure times are seen in other, similar communities, and the rules for city trails do not include the proposed closed hours.
Councilman McKinney asked why the trails through the parks would be considered open but the grass next to them wasn’t.
One thing Terry said the Council should keep in mind is police officers would use discretion and “common sense” to respond and talk to people in the parks before rushing to issue citations or make arrests.
Councilman Paul Weaver noted most of the issues were stemming off one rule out of many other proposed changes, most of which were to clarify items or make them consistent. He added the city could possibly amend the controversial rule for the second reading to address issues like trails through parks and walking vs. loitering in the parks.
McKinney said the rule regarding park closure times was his main concern, and he would be “glad to support the rest of it.”
This was the first reading of the ordinance, with a public hearing scheduled for March 19. The first reading passed 7-2, with Councilmen McKinney and Weaver voting opposed.