Earlier this year, the Johnson County Board of Park and Recreation Commissioners approved a safety plan prepared by JCPRD staff to address safety needs for the years 2019 through 2030. It includes a review of Johnson County Park Police staffing and equipment to ensure appropriate safety and security within the district. JCPRD has opened and will continue to open additional acres to the public, substantially increasing JCPRD managed greenspace available for public access. Additional trail miles and recreation facilities are opening as well, requiring increased provision of safety services.
“As we open new parks and trails, the JCPRD board wanted to ensure that safety was not lost as our agency’s top priority,” said JCPRD Executive Director Jill Geller. “They established a goal for staff to develop a district-wide safety plan in 2018. The plan recognized that between 2016 and 2024, JCPRD will see an 82 percent increase in park acres open to the public, a 42 percent increase in paved trail miles, and a 27 percent increase in JCPRD facilities. The plan identified the need for four officers to be added to the park police force each year from 2019 to 2024, and the installation of security cameras at parks and facilities. The Board’s unanimous adoption of the plan is evidence of their commitment to the continued safety of our park patrons, program participants and staff.”
In addition to JCPRD’s growth in acres and trail miles, visitations to the agency’s parks and facilities are at an all-time high. The number of visitations to JCPRD’s various parks and facilities in 2017 was 8.9 million. Projections through 2024 are for a 32 percent increase in visitation, and the projection through 2030 anticipates a 42 percent increase.
It is important that residents feel safe in JCPRD parks and facilities and on district trails. Safety on trails has been of heightened concern in recent years due to crimes committed on other metro area trails not owned and operated by JCPRD. Currently, one bike patrol officer, supplemented by park safety aides on bike, patrol in the busier summer months.
Additionally, automobiles visiting JCPRD’s park amenities are sometimes a target for burglaries, and there has been a rise in this activity in the past year. Greater visibility of park police, safety aides, and the installation of security cameras will be a strong deterrent to such activity, and is an anticipated outcome of the safety plan.
Current Park Police Staff include: one chief, two captains, four sergeants, and 16 patrol officers.
"Our goal is really to get our new JCPRD Safety Plan implemented, and it really starts with recruiting, hiring, and training officers," said Superintendent of Safety and Outdoor Education Terry Anderson. "We have those four new positions to fill for 2019 as part of the safety plan, and with three more positions to fill due to recent attrition, in the next six or seven months, we will probably hire a record level of new officers."
Safety has always been a top priority for JCPRD, and it is evident with the increase in park acres, trail miles, and recreation facilities that additional park police services are needed. The recent opening of the park police substation in Big Bull Creek Park provides better responsiveness for patrons. The opening of a second park police substation is proposed in 2022, with a third substation to follow in future years. Closely monitoring activity and visitations in new parks in the coming years, JCPRD will evaluate and determine the best locations for a these substations.
Funding for implementation of the safety plan has not been identified, and will require approval from the JCPRD park board, as well as the Johnson County Board of County Commissioners as part of the annual budget process.