Friends of Hagert Playground concerned over uptick in trespassing, suspicious activity after area is closed
By Lindsey Nolen
Situated in the heart of East Kensington, Hagert Playground was designed to serve the community as a safe, friendly space where everyone in the community is welcome. However, in recent months its civic, the Friends of Hagert Playground, has noticed increasing evidence of trespassing and suspicious activity within the playground at night.
Taking to its Facebook page to share these concerns, the Friends of Hagert Playground stated the trespassing has resulted in individuals having removed the access panel cover for the electricity system, tampered with lights and disconnected live wires. Although Julius Rivera, one of the leaders of the Friends of Hagert Street Playground, initially thought the offenders were removing the access panels to scrap and make money off the metal, they continued to be stolen even after being replaced with plastic covers.
“Throughout the year, we’ve had to call 311 to reattach the lights and wires multiple times,” Rivera said. “I’ve also had to speak to a representative with the Friends of Philly Parks Network. It’s been an ongoing issue, and it’s unclear and odd as to why people would be pulling on the live wires.”
Considering all the possible reasons why someone might be vandalizing the park and its lighting system, the first possible conclusion Rivera came to was it is being done in resistance to new park hours. These hours, ranging from 9 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., were put in effect within the past year because new neighbors with children have moved into homes near the park.
“It’s hard to have a good quality of life with the basketball court in the park open throughout the night,” Rivera said. “We’ve seen some resistance since people aren’t used to [the park] being locked at night, like graffiti on the posted hours sign. So when we started seeing this vandalism it seemed related to the resistance at first.”
Yet, to gain entrance to the park at night the offenders have additionally removed a temporary fence, which was being held in place with wire hangers until the Department of Parks and Recreation began its planned renovation on the site; a project that had been advocated for over the last 10 years. Furthermore, a lock and chain were also removed from the Hagert Playground, and Rivera found miscellaneous clothes and personal items laying on the ground one morning when he went to unlock the park’s gates.
According to Alain Joinville, public relations manager for Parks and Recreation, his department has notified the Philadelphia Water Department about the issue regarding the fencing being removed, and said the Water Department is working on repairing the fence. He added the Friends of Hagert Park have since put temporary padlocks on the fence to prevent additional removal, and Parks and Recreation plans to replace these locks with padlocks of its own soon. Joinville concluded that it’s difficult to speculate why “these folks would be breaking in.”
“Finding the clothes, sneakers and water bottles opened up more possibilities that I had not previously anticipated, like the possibility that people are trying to use the playground as a place to sleep,” Rivera said. “The lights being taken out could also be in an attempt to lessen visibility of the park at night, so that others can’t see what they’re doing.”
Until more concrete measures can be taken to prevent and deter such behavior, Rivera has asked that any “neighborhood night owls” who reside near the park be on watch between roughly 10:30 p.m. and 8 a.m. for any suspicious activity inside Hagert Playground. If spotted, neighbors should not approach the offenders, but should instead call 911 to report instances of trespassing.
“Different people are on different schedules in the neighborhood. If those up late could just keep the park on their radar and peek out at it once in awhile it could really help us figure out what’s going on,” Rivera said.”
Ultimately Rivera hopes to have cameras installed through the Department of Parks and Recreation within the park as soon as possible. That way the Friends of Hagert Playground and police can begin to understand who the offenders are, and why they are interfering with the park. In the time until the public cameras can be installed, he also plans to explore the idea of having neighbors face personal cameras toward the park at night, although he said some people have already expressed their concerns that private cameras being directed on a public space seems unethical.
“We just really need to figure out how to best monitor Hagert Playground and respond to what’s going on,” Rivera said.