News

Neighbors question safety of local parks

For some Federal Way residents, a series of shootings at Steel Lake Park last week highlights a growing concern: Are city parks safe?

For Spencer Abrom, who lives across the street from Steel Lake Park, 2410 S. 312th St., the answer is no.

Abrom had recently left the park Aug. 1 when two teenagers were shot — a 15-year-old girl and a 16-year-old boy. The annual Kids Day event had concluded a half-hour before the 8:31 p.m. shootings.

“Recently things have gotten out of control,” said Abrom, 21. “I don’t feel comfortable taking my daughter to Steel Lake Park. If I take my daughter to the park, it’s somewhere in a different city.”

Gang violence and crime is an everyday reality at Steel Lake, said Abrom, whose daughter is 2 years old.

According to Mirror archives, there have been at least two shootings and one stabbing at the park and adjacent skate park in the past four months. All occurred between 7 and 9 p.m.

“It’s too high of a risk factor than I’m willing to take for my daughter,” Abrom said.

Most of the crime is due to the fact that the park draws large crowds for its central location and numerous amenities such as swimming, large open spaces, children’s playground, picnic areas and barbecue pits, Abrom said.

He compared Steel Lake in Federal Way to Times Square in New York.

“When a place is so filled with a town or city population, more than likely a lot of it’s crime,” Abrom said. “Bad things are going to happen where a lot of people congregate.”

Abrom said he would like to see more police presence at Steel Lake Park as well as more community effort to clean up the city and help troubled youth. He hosts a dance group for children in an attempt to get them off the streets.

“Federal Way as a whole is, like, really depleting,” Abrom said. “The city is pretty much worried about making Federal Way a tourist attraction with all the construction and stuff, but they’re not really focusing on the environment and the people that are already here.”

Donna Hanson, director of the Federal Way parks department, said police have responded to requests for additional presence at Steel Lake Park and its skate park this year.

Federal Way Police Chief Brain Wilson said that in addition to routine patrols, the department has dedicated staff to patrol the park during peak time periods. He declined to say how often the park was patrolled or how many officers are assigned such duties. Police presence at Steel Lake Park depends on the weather and size of the crowd there, he said.

“It’s important for us to have a presence at the park,” Wilson said. “We’re committed to doing that.”

Wilson added that Steel Lake is safer this year than it was last year.

“We have had better performance this year, more safety and less incidents than last year,” he said.

He also said that the investigation into the Aug. 1 shootings has momentum.

“We’re doing very well with the investigation of those cases,” he said. “We know what occurred and who is responsible.”

Problem areas

Steel Lake isn’t the only problem park in Federal Way, some residents say.

Rob Winkle, who lives in the Twin Lakes neighborhood, said he is hesitant to bring his 10-year-old son to Steel Lake Park or Alderdale Park near his home.

At Alderdale, 2700 SW 340th Place, Winkle said he’s found drug syringes and used condoms on the playground.

Todd Wernet, who was playing catch with his son at Alderdale Park on Monday afternoon, agreed that crime at the park is a problem. He visits the park several times a week and has found drug paraphernalia and cases of beer.

In the afternoons and evening hours, the park is plagued with crowds of teenagers and young adults partying and dealing drugs, Wernet said. At times, the street lines up with more than 15 cars.

“It’s still a safe park,” Wernet said. “In the evenings not as much because I don’t think they would take kindly to people coming down and interrupting them doing their thing.”

Still, Wernet allows his two boys, ages 11 and 13, to play at the park during the day.

“If they see anything weird down here, they just come home,” he said.

Wernet said he’s unaware of any shootings at the park since he moved there 17 years ago.

That’s not so for Saghalie Park, 33914 19th Ave. SW.

In the wee morning hours, Winkle, who lives nearby, said he frequently hears gunshots and various explosions coming from Saghalie Park.

“The gang thing is out of control,” Winkle said.

He too, would like to see more police presence.

“I think the police here are afraid to go into areas. They’re afraid to do anything,” Winkle said.

“That is absolutely not the case,” Police Chief Brian Wilson responded.

Woody Wood, who also lives in the Twin Lakes neighborhood, pointed out that the troublemakers in Federal Way are likely to be armed.

“These kids can shoot back,” he said.

Wood said he would like to see a curfew in the city strictly enforced for juveniles. There is currently no curfew for juveniles in Federal Way, but city parks close at dusk.

Crime has also been a problem at a park in the Westway neighborhood. A local church group last month volunteered to clean up broken beer bottles and debris at the park.

The area was littered with broken glass. The play equipment was covered with graffiti and a slide was broken. One church member found a spent bullet in the gravel area beneath the swings. The Westway park is maintained by a homeowners association.

Federal Way maintenance crews visit each city park about once a week, Hanson said. More popular parks, such as Steel Lake, are cleaned up every day.

“We try to pick up garbage and certainly anything that’s not safe,” she said.

Hanson said she recommends parents to be aware of the areas where children are playing and watching out for dangerous debris.

“I would always tell parents to stay close to their children and just be aware of their surroundings, and if they feel uncomfortable they should leave or call 911,” she said.

She does not recommend parents pick up debris such as needles or condoms.

“We train our staff to use gloves and tools to pick up those items and we would never encourage the public to pick up dangerous items,” she said.

If a park becomes a frequent problem area, Hanson encourages people to call the city.

“Be our eyes and ears,” she said. “The more information we have and the police have can help us keep our parks safe.”

Contact Margo Horner: mhorner@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

Report it

To report a problem with litter or debris at a city park, call the parks maintenance 24-hour answering service at (253) 835-6960.

To report a crime in progress, call 911.

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