Design of Downtown Children's Park Is Attracting Criminals: San Diego City Councilman

In two years, San Diego police responded hundreds of times for reports of petty theft, arson, domestic violence, prostitution, drug possession

San Diego Police Department reports show officers responded to the Children’s Park in downtown San Diego more than 400 times in a two-year period.

The park is located on Island Avenue and Front Street, built by the city of San Diego when the city hosted the Republican National Convention in 1996. The tax-payer funded park is described by Google as a place "where ducks swim" and "a kids' playground under the pines."

Area residents and San Diego City Councilman Todd Gloria paint a different picture of the park.

“You never know what's going to happen or what you are going to see, so we never really think of coming here,” Will Carreras, a downtown resident and father of two girls, told NBC 7 Investigates.

He said he would never bring his family to play at the park.

“What we see are people camped out, tents, sometimes shopping carts,” Carreras said.

Gloria said the park has been a concern of his for several years and the physical layout of the park is attracting criminals.

“You have these mounds, and collectively it really creates an opportunity for folks not to be seen, and that's certainly not good for children,” Gloria said.

NBC 7 Investigates reviewed years of police records from the SDPD. The records reveal officers were called to the Children's Park 234 times in 2014 and 226 times in 2015. Some of the crimes recorded by police included petty theft, disturbing the peace with violence, arson in progress, domestic violence, prostitution, vandalism and drug possession.

Click here to view SDPD records for the Children’s Park.

The 460 calls for service is more than double the number the SDPD received for other downtown parks during that same time period. According to police records, Pantoja Park on G Street had 139 calls for service and Amici Park on State Street in Little Italy had 12.

Click here to view SDPD records for Amici Park.

Police records show officers did more than respond to calls for service at the park. In 2014 and 2015, 20 arrest warrants were issued at the Children's Park, including parole violations, possession of methamphetamine and commercial burglary.

In that same time period, seven warrants were issued in Pantoja Park and zero were issued in Amici Park.

The SDPD provided the records to NBC 7 Investigates, but declined to comment further.

Gloria said one solution to reducing crime at the Children’s Park is redesigning the space.

“Parks need activation, and without it you tend to invite other elements that people don't want in their neighborhood,” he said.

In 2011, Civic San Diego approved a $3.2 million master plan for the 1.5-acre park. The proposed changes included new landscaping and adding playground equipment and a restroom. Click here to see more details about the approved plan.

But the plan was never put into action.

In 2012, state redevelopment money, the primary funding source for neighborhood projects, was cut. Gloria said without state funding, there wasn't enough money for the improvements.

Since the 2011 plan was approved, area residents have new ideas for the future of the park. One possibility being discussed is transforming the land into an off-leash dog park.

Gloria said he supports the idea, but finding the funding will be difficult.

“The city’s budget is $1.2 billion, so it should be able to find something like that,” he said. “But that has to compete with other demands not just across the city but within downtown.”

Brad Richter with Civic San Diego declined NBC 7 Investigates request for an on-camera interview.

In an email he said $600,000 was allocated last year to begin implementing the 2011 park improvements. If the plan were to include the addition of an off-leash dog park, the approval process starts over.

Carreras said he hopes the city makes "cleaning up" the park a priority.

“I think San Diego has the opportunity to revitalize places like this and make them more family friendly," he said.

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