The St. Joseph County Board of Commissioners has authorized Sheriff’s Department personnel to assist with enforcement of park ordinances at Cade Lake Park near Sturgis on the Fourth of July and the weekends before and after the mid-week holiday.
In action Tuesday (June 19), commissioners responded in a limited way to a motion passed by the Parks & Recreation Commission in a special meeting on June 12 “to request that the Board of Commissioners provide funding for the Sheriff’s Department to provide 16 to 24 hours per week of sheriff’s patrol in parks for the remainder of the 2012 season on an as needed basis, with dates and times to be determined, at a maximum cost of $6,050.”
In a memo to County Administrator Judy West-Wing and county commissioners, Parks & Recreation Director John Pence outlined a request that mentioned both Cade Lake Park and Nottawa Park and said, “On holiday weekends and during hot weather, hundreds of people come out to both Nottawa and Cade Lake and our seasonal staff can become overwhelmed by the crowds.”
As he addressed the board Tuesday, Pence reflected dialogue during the Executive Committee meeting last Friday (June 15) as he reported that the original request had been revised downward. He said, “I think that by using funds from our Cade Lake Fund – balances from our Cade Lake Fund – and the Parks & Recreation Fund, we should, I think, be able to have an impact for a thousand to 1,500 dollars per fund. That would provide us 40 to 50 hours for us to use as needed through the rest of the season.”
Pence explained the circumstances that prompted the request and said, “When we have holiday weekends and hot weather, we can wind up with hundreds of people at both Nottawa and Cade Lake. Aside from verbal requests, parks personnel – their capacity to actually enforce the ordinances is somewhat limited. They can make requests to people, but if people become belligerent or hostile, that’s when we would need to call law enforcement.” (John Pence audio clip – 2:35)
Commissioner John Dobberteen said, “It concerns me when you say you can’t enforce the rules because it makes me believe the parks department can’t run a park, you can’t run a campground.”
Pence said, “Our staff do what they can. They do their best. We do sometimes ask people to leave and they leave. When we ask them to leave and they don’t, that’s when we need to call the sheriff’s department and they’re not always available. They’ve got other, bigger fish to fry.”
Commissioner Robin Baker asked, “Are we understaffed?” Pence responded by saying that “Staffing’s been consistent,” but indicated that “When 600 people show up, it’s pretty rough.”
Conversation on the topic included questions from Baker about training of park staff and a query from Commissioner Don Eaton about the use of volunteers to assist. Regarding training, Pence said, “I think the best training in my mind for staff in that situation would come from the sheriff’s department – de-escalation tactics, things they know that maybe our staff don’t.” On the subject of volunteers, Pence said, “We’ve never called for volunteers at the parks on holiday weekends. I think we would have some interest from the patrons out there to help out.” And he said, “We could use them, particularly at the park entrance to greet folks.”
At one point, Eaton suggested sending the issue back to the Executive Committee for further consideration. However, in view of the concerns expressed and the nearness of the Independence Day holiday, the end point of the conversation was a motion to allow Pence to utilize funds from Cade Lake Park Fund for the Fourth of July and the weekends before and after for law enforcement help and then take the matter back to the Executive Committee for further discussion.
Pence said the priority at this point is the Fourth of July and Labor Day “when we’re full, particularly the Fourth of July with the weather the way it is.”
Pence said, “Thank you all. We’ll let you know how it goes.”