In response to mounting complaints about panhandlers, drug and gang activity and two recent shootings in Riverside parks, city officials may hire security guards – possibly armed – to patrol parks.

Officials say they don’t yet have details on the proposal, such as what it would cost, what times guards would be posted and which of the city’s 58 parks would be included. The City Council is expected to discuss and vote on the plan after receiving proposals from private security firms.

Residents have complained about homeless people camping in La Sierra Park, but the real problem is aggressive panhandling, drug deals and other crimes, said Councilman Steve Adams, who announced the plan at a community meeting Wednesday, Jan. 29.

“Everybody’s welcome in our parks,” Adams said Thursday. “Nobody’s welcome to conduct illegal activity in our parks.”

The city ultimately wants to hire more police officers, but that can take more than a year, said Adams, a retired cop.

Residents near La Sierra Park want to create a volunteer patrol, he said, but “right now the citizens didn’t feel safe doing that because we had the two shootings.”

A homeless man was found shot to death in the park in December. Also that month, a man fired at an officer trying to arrest him at Arlington Park. In response, Riverside Assistant police Chief Chris Vicino this month promised greater police presence.


Early public response to the plan has been mixed.

Abel Lopez, who lives across from La Sierra Park, said he’s all for it, because he isn’t comfortable using the park now.

He’d like to see someone getting people out of the park at night, when it’s supposed to be closed.

An armed guard “is not going to be as positive as a police officer, but it’s still going to be positive,” Lopez said.

On Friday, some visitors to two city parks said they wouldn’t have a problem with the security guards.

Amparo Santizo, who was watching her niece play at Arlington Park, said in Spanish that she doesn’t always feel safe there.

“There’s not a lot of people (here) right now, but usually there’s a lot sleeping, (and) on drugs,” she said.

At Mount Rubidoux, Jay Ahmadi, who was finishing a run, said he sometimes sees graffiti there, and people drink and then leave behind broken glass bottles.

“It’s going to cost the taxpayers a little more (to hire guards), but better safe than sorry,” he said.

Other residents suggested installing cameras or spending more money on homeless programs. Others have questions about hiring guards.

“It’s a really enormous expense to take on and it’s something that we really need to have public discussion on,” said Scott Andrews, a member of the Riverside Neighborhood Partnership.

Gary Coffer said heavier police presence or volunteer patrols could work.

“(At) a park with kids playing, do you really want someone pulling out a handgun and shooting at somebody?” he said.


Councilman Mike Soubirous wondered whether unarmed guards would be effective, and if police would be able to respond if the private guards called them to make an arrest or deal with an incident.

Adams said the police department assigns cops to check on parks on their beat, but they often get called away to higher-priority calls.

Though not everyone agrees on whether the city should hire private guards, several blamed the need for more security on prison realignment, which shifted responsibility for lower-level offenders from the state to counties.

“You can’t let people out of jail early or not put them in jail at all and expect crime to go down,” Coffer said.

Assistant City Manager Belinda Graham said officials can answer questions once the city gets a response to its request for proposals, which is now being drafted.

For now, she said, “we just really want to make sure that people understand that our 58 parks at the city are safe and they can take their families there and enjoy it.

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