School picnic cancellation fuels Alpine Park rumors

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11188564859405.jpg’, ‘Photo by Melissa Wangall’, ‘Rumor of "criminal activity" at Alpine Park had parents concerned.’);

Rockford Park District assures families Alpine Park is safe and offers general park safety tips

Recent incidents have made some Alpine Park-goers wary, although concern seems to be due more to rumor than to actual danger.

Gregory Elementary School cancelled a planned kindergarten picnic at Alpine Park set for May 27 due to concerns of “criminal activity, including sexual misconduct,” according to a letter sent home with students. Rumor quickly spread that a “flasher” was present in the park. However, Rockford Park District police said suspicious activity reported involved a man sitting in a truck who, after a background check, was found to have no sexual offenses. No official reports of “flasher activity” were ever called in, Park District Police said.

Gregory Elementary Principal Vicki Jacobson said she still felt parent comfort level warranted the picnic cancellation. The picnic was relocated to school grounds.

Statistics obtained from the Park District show seven indecency charges (illegal sexual activity) in Alpine Park in 2004, four more than in 2003. Park District police said they have stepped up the battle against such offenses.

Regular patrols continue, with increased attention on the newly built Universal Playground. A release from Rockford Park District states: “Whenever we have encountered concerns in any of our parks, the park police have increased our patrol of the area, and, if necessary, we have assigned officers in the park, in uniform or even under cover as the situation dictates. We will continue to handle concerns in this fashion as we have found that this approach tends to curtail the activities that have been the cause for concern. We are deeply committed to keeping our parks and facilities safe for visitors and employees alike.”

Rockford Park District Police Chief Jerry Venable added: “Most of our arrests are traffic-related [25 in 2004]…If any organization or group has plans for park use [and has concerns], let us know. We’ll provide them with an officer [during their visit].” People can contact the Park District’s main office at 987-8800.

The Park District provided the following tips to ensure park safety:

Parents should always keep a close eye on their children and know where they are at all times. Parents should also make sure their child:

Knows his or her own name and phone number;

Never talks to strangers;

Never takes a ride from a stranger or goes with someone they don’t know;

Never ventures off alone, always stays in a group;

Always looks and listens before crossing a street; and

Knows police officers in uniform are there to help them.

From the June 15-21, 2005, issue

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