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Residents voicing concerns over the safety of Heritage Park

Published: Jul. 13, 2020 at 4:06 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Residents of the Whittier Neighborhood, near downtown Sioux Falls, are growing increasingly frustrated with the amount of crime that is being committed in Heritage Park.

At last week’s city council meeting, several folks who live in the area showed up to voice their concerns about activity that takes place in the park, calling on the council as well as Mayor Paul TenHaken to clean things up.

While Heritage Park has been a staple in the Whittier Neighborhood for decades, the park has shifted from a family friendly environment to on that no longer feels safe to those who live in the area.

Michaela Smothers rents a home right across the street from Heritage Park. Though her family has only lived in the neighborhood for three weeks, she says she’s had to call the police to address issues in the park about 15 times.

“You will constantly hear people swearing in the park, there are fights and altercations in the park, they drink in the park when it’s posted that there’s no drinking,” Smothers said.

This recurrence causes Smothers to fear for the safety of her children, which prompted her and one of her neighbors to speak up at last week’s city council meeting.

“The cops have been great, they’ve been responding, clearing out, they’ve been issuing tickets, they’ve been doing their jobs, but it needs to be bigger,” Smothers said. “The cops can only do so much, and so I told the city council I’ll be there every Tuesday until it’s taken care of.”

Since then, City Councilor Pat Starr, who represents the Northeast District of Sioux Falls, has spoken to Smothers and listened to the concerns of others who live in the area.

“The neighbors deserve a great neighborhood park, where they can feel safe, take their families, and the things that make neighborhoods successful,” Starr said. “They are missing that right now.”

Officer Sam Clemens with the Sioux Falls Police Department says law enforcement usually receives calls to Heritage Park about 75 times a year, but so far in 2020, that number has already more than doubled.

“I think, by and large, most of those are people that are struggling with alcoholism, mental illness, and some other addiction problems,” Clemens said. “We can enforce laws when they are being broken in that park, but some of the underlying reasons, we’re not really in a position to address.”

As well as trimming back trees and replacing worn-out light fixtures to give the park proper security, Starr says the city will need to find ways to get the folks who frequent the park back on the right track.

“Just moving people from one location to the next isn’t necessarily the solution,” Starr said. “We need to look at places where we could help people find jobs, and find them a way to be productive members of society, rather than just hanging out in a park drinking all day.”

Starr says the new Sioux Empire Triage Center coming to downtown Sioux Falls is something the city can also utilize to get help to those who want and need it.

Copyright 2020 Dakota News Now. All rights reserved.

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