St. John installing cameras; hoping to live stream for authorities

Published 12:07 am Saturday, June 18, 2016

LAPLACE — It seems like the perfect time for residents to enjoy swings, slides and spray hoses at their local parks; however, there are some residents who feel like it’s the perfect time for vandalism.

St. John the Baptist Parish is planning to install security cameras at all of its parks following recent acts of vandalism at Emily C. Watkins, above, and other locations.

St. John the Baptist Parish is planning to install security cameras at all of its parks following recent acts of vandalism at Emily C. Watkins, above, and other locations.

With all the hard work St. John the Baptist Parish has put into improving parks for residents, Parks and Recreation Director Kerry Watkins is disheartened to see people abusing the parks.

Two parks — Belle Pointe Park and Emily C. Watkins playground — were vandalized last weekend. A recycle bin and mulch were set on fire at Belle Pointe, and playground equipment at Emily C. Watkins was written on with spray paint.

“We work so hard to keep everything state-of-the-art to give residents the best quality of equipment,” Watkins said. “It’s sad when we get calls at midnight saying a park is set on fire and brand new equipment is being spray painted before we even have a ribbon cutting.”

Watkins said he wants residents to know by vandalizing the public parks they are wasting their tax dollars. All of St. John’s public parks recently received improvements through a $2 million parks improvement project.

“We have to assess the damage caused by the fire at Belle Pointe; we need to see if we can repair it or if we have to replace it,” Watkins said.

“Same goes for Emily C. Watkins with all of the stray paint. We’re hoping to remove the spray paint without damaging the existing paint.”

Watkins said police reports have been filed with the St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff’s Office.

“The Sheriff and I are working together to help prevent (vandalism) in the future,” Watkins said. “We are going to put up 13 cameras. We’re trying to cover every park in the parish. They will be high tech, motion-active cameras — the same kind the Sheriff’s Office is using for catching crime.”

Watkins said plans are in the works to have the cameras live streamed through the Sheriff’s Office. If an agreement can’t be reached with the Sheriff’s Office, Watkins said the parks department would still install the cameras and monitor them through the 911 center or Parks staff.

St. John Parish Communications Director Baileigh Rebowe Helm said the parks are assets because they give families and children somewhere safe to enjoy each other and the fresh air.

“It’s unfortunate that there are some people that don’t respect the parks and don’t take care of them,” Helm said. “It wastes time and money when we have to clean them and get rid of the vandalism. We’re asking our community to please come together. If you see something, say something.”

While there are those that want to destroy the parks, Watkins said there are also many people enjoying them.

“I see a lot of families out,” he said. “People are very active. The parks are always busy. They are being utilized, and that’s why we do the work. We do it for the community to utilize, feel safe, feel comfortable and enjoy. I get the most satisfaction from seeing people enjoying the parks.”

Even though the major improvements are done and a ribbon cutting was held Thursday at Thomas F. Daley Memorial Park on U.S. 51 in LaPlace, Watkins said there still a few pending enhancements.

“We’re going to put a covered area over the spray park and fence at the park on Highway 51,” he said.

“We’re also going to add little additions to the parks, such as benches and trash cans that wasn’t covered in the project.”

By Raquel Derganz Baker