By David Skolnick
Those who live near Wick Park on the city’s North Side say steps must be taken to make the location safer — particularly in light of a recent sexual assault there.
The July 6 sexual assault of a 19-year-old woman reduced some of the progress made at the park to make it safer and more inviting, said Gary Davenport, president of the Wick Park Neighborhood Association.
“We’re trying to take our neighborhood back,” he said.
Officials with the association spoke Thursday with the city’s park and recreation commission about a number of proposals to help.
Immediately after news of the assault, the association checked the lights at the 34-acre park and found that 29 of about 65 of its light poles didn’t have working bulbs, said Davenport.
After contacting First-Energy, most were repaired quickly, adding a lot more light to the park, he said.
“Light is the best deterrent against criminal activity,” Davenport said. “Give those who would sell drugs or assault our neighbors fewer places to hide. Our 34-acre forest should be a beacon of light in the neighborhood, not a series of murky shadows and dark places.”
The light fixtures at the park use 100-watt bulbs. The association wants to replace them with 150-watt bulbs to increase the amount of light at the park.
City park and recreation commission members said they would contact First-Energy to determine the cost of switching bulbs, and see if it is affordable.
“As far as the lighting, we can’t guarantee what will happen” because of the cost, said Denise Skowron, the commission’s chairwoman.
The association also wants increased security patrols at the park.
The commission hires a company to provide security at the park from 3:30 to 9 p.m. every day, and until 11:30 p.m. when a party takes place there, said Darlene Tubbs, the commission’s executive secretary. Also, those who have parties at the park are required to pay for the services of a Mahoning County deputy sheriff during those events, Tubbs said.
The private security also is supplemented by Youngstown police patrols, she said.
Security needs to be more visible at the park, Davenport said.
A security officer was at the park when the sexual assault occurred but said he didn’t hear anything, Tubbs said.
The woman told officers she was walking home when she was grabbed from behind, punched in the face and forced to the ground by a man. The man covered the woman’s mouth and fondled her under her clothes, according to a police report. The woman bit the attacker, forcing him to let her mouth go, the report states. The woman then screamed, and the attacker ran away.
Commission members agreed that an increased security presence is needed at the park in coordination with city police and the Youngstown State University police forces.
The association also requested concrete poles and chains be installed at the two vehicular entrances to the park to be used at night. Blocking vehicular traffic at dark would reduce illicit activities at the park, Davenport said.
Later at Thursday’s meeting, after the association’s members left, park officials said they’re concerned the poles and chains would make it difficult for emergency vehicles to gain access to the park.
The increased expenses might be covered by a $100,000 grant given by the Youngstown Foundation for improvements to the park, said Anthony Spano, a commission member.
Members of the commission and the association agreed to talk next month about improving safety at the park, which is bordered by Broadway, Park Avenue, Fifth Avenue and Elm Street.