We don’t envy the Safford Police these days.
The department is between the proverbial rock and a hard place, thanks to improvements in the city’s quality of life.
We’re speaking, of course, about Firth Park.
The city and residents have done a fantastic job of making Firth Park a gathering spot for residents and visitors. It started more than 10 years ago, in 2005, when the city initiated construction of a new 4,425-square-foot pool at Firth Park.
Seven years after the new pool opened, the city commenced demolition of the old pool to create more — and, more importantly, safer — parking for the new pool. Which has resulted in a pool packed with families and children all summer long.
In recent years, the city has put down new grass, improved the picnic ramadas and upgraded the playground equipment. The result has been an increase in families celebrating birthday parties at the park and bringing the children to run and play.
To make Firth Park even better, Dr. Cathy Romero spearheaded a community fund-raising effort to construct a new skate park at the location. The community responded — as well as Freeport-McMoRan and the United Way of Graham and Greenlee Counties — and in about a year’s time, another great attraction was added to the park, an attraction that is in use virtually every day of the year.
Then there’s this smart phone game called Pokemon Go. The Courier recently reported on a resurgence in the game, thanks to changes that require people to work together. Firth Park happens to be a popular spot for gamers because parks are tagged as special spots in the game, so it’s not unusual to see upward of 25 people — from age 8 to 60 — gathered together at the art column or by the pool.
So we have all these people using the park for exactly what the city wants it used for — as a place to play, gather and recreate. So what does all that have to do with the police?
Well, Firth Park is also really popular with the area’s homeless population.
On any given day, a visitor to the park will see at least one ramada filled with homeless persons, or four or five just sitting outside the restrooms.
We don’t bring this up because we believe the homeless are doing anything wrong. In all out visits to Firth Park, the homeless people we’ve encountered have been polite and, for the most part, kept to themselves. They are doing the same thing families, skateboarders and Pokemon Go players are doing — relaxing in an enjoyable place.
However . . .
We can understand why some families would be reticent to bring their children to the park. After all, parents and grandparents don’t know who the homeless people are or their backgrounds. Are they homeless due to a financial crisis, a loss of employment or divorce? Were they just released from the county jail, just across the street? Are they substance abusers or registered sex offenders who can’t find decent lodging? Those are fair questions for any parent to ask.
The police can’t do much, as long as the homeless aren’t bothering anyone. Homeless people have as much right to use a public amenity such as a park as any other resident. But families have a right to know they shouldn’t have to worry about taking their children to a park or using a park’s restroom.
We think the answer to this problem has to do with local in-patient substance abuse rehabilitation services, transitional housing and job training, but that isn’t a simple fix and can’t happen overnight.
When it comes to the police, the best we can do is continue to support their efforts as they try to navigate what is decidedly a very tricky situation.