Security at Point Mallard increased, officials say
Supervisors taking over roles held by rangers lost in December 2005 Decatur budget cuts
By Catherine Godbey
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Katie McLemore's day of relaxation at Point Mallard ended abruptly when a page over the loudspeaker summoned her to the front gate.
A Point Mallard employee met McLemore and escorted her to her car, where shattered glass awaited her. Her purse, hidden out of sight, was missing.
Police said two other individuals were also victims of thefts that day, June 5.
She wondered if budget cuts that resulted in the loss of park rangers contributed to the break-ins.
"I didn't see any security around and there are no more park rangers at Point Mallard," she said.
Jeff Dunlap, director of the Parks and Recreation Department, said restructuring and budget cuts led to the elimination of the park rangers.
In December 2005, the City Council approved budget cuts that affected nine city departments. The budget cuts were approved in an attempt to decrease the high percentage of the city's budget allocated for employees. Under these budget cuts, Point Mallard lost eight jobs and four transferees. A month later, to further consolidate department operations, the council transferred the management of Point Mallard to the Parks and Recreation Department.
McLemore feels that security at Point Mallard has decreased and suggested employing security agents, increasing the police presence and adding outside cameras.
But Dunlap believes park safety has increased since the restructuring, even with the lack of park rangers.
"Rangers were never able to do anything different than any other employee. If they saw a crime being committed, all they could do was call the police; they couldn't make any arrests," he said.
After the restructuring, supervisors took over the role of the park rangers. The number of supervisors employed at Point Mallard exceeds the number of park rangers employed there before the budget cuts.
"Since we have more supervisors now, we have more security than when we had rangers," Dunlap said.
With the increased security, McLemore wondered, "why wasn't someone watching ... after one, two, three cars it seemed that ... somebody should have been patrolling the lot."
Dunlap and Barry Smith, manager of the Point Mallard Ice Complex, said someone was watching and that security around the park increased after the first reports of criminal activity.
"When something like this occurs, we let the employees know about it and put everyone on alert," Smith said. "We also call the Police Department and step up patrols."
Point Mallard patrols consist of a constant monitoring of the main parking lot. According to Dunlap, the parking lots are always watched, even if an incident is not reported.
"We have a staff member that goes up and down the aisles of the parking lot in a golf cart. ... The staff member stays in the golf cart from four to six hours," he said.
Lt. Chris Mathews, a police spokesman, said the department has increased its presence at the park since the break-ins.
"In addition to the officers assigned to Point Mallard, we put out an extra patrol during times open and closed. This means the officers patrol the park even when it is closed," Mathews said.
Police will continue to have an increased presence around the park even though Police Chief Ken Collier believes the person doing the break-ins has been arrested. Collier said the department recently charged individuals in connection with the crimes at Point Mallard. He believes the same individuals are responsible for similar criminal activity that occurred at Colonial Mall.
The management at Point Mallard and police said the arrests should result in a decrease of criminal activity.
"We haven't had any reports of stolen items in the past week," Smith said.
"We hope people feel safe here," Smith added. "We want them to be safe and have a good time."
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