JONESBORO — Reports of gunfire at the Lee Street Park basketball courts have residents calling for the permanent closing of the courts and city officials looking for a balance.
Several residents spoke during the Jonesboro City Council meeting on Jan. 11, many in favor of closure while others touted the outlet the game provides. The park is surrounded by homes, Lee Street Elementary School and the Salvation Army.
The courts, basketball and tennis, have been closed since Jan. 2 and will remain closed until Feb. 1.
Mayor Joy Day said the time will serve as a “cooling off period” and give city officials an opportunity to meet with residents and players as well as members from the First Baptist Church to find a suitable solution to the problem.
Residents said it’s not a matter of if, but when, someone gets hurt or killed. Many noted it’s “grown men” on the courts who don’t live in the city who appear to be causing the majority of the problems.
To help combat the issue, Jonesboro police Chief Tommy Henderson has already implemented a plan with his officers to patrol the park. From 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. an officer will be stationed at the park to provide security, serve as a witness and deal with any threats or issues that may occur. Gates to the courts close at 6 p.m. daily, though Henderson noted that officers have flexibility to close them earlier if needed to “make everybody feel safe.”
“If our residents are not feeling safe then we have to address that in our community,” he said.
Henderson said that statistics show that incidents over the last 45 days at the courts are occurring between 5-7 p.m. Officers will make sure everyone leaves the courts and stay one hour after closure to ensure no incidents take place.
Police officers will also conduct hourly patrols around the park and courts all day, every day, he said.
Additionally, Henderson said the department has begun Operation Safe Park to enforce parking laws around the courts. He said cars parked illegally allow officers to check vehicle tags and to know who’s in the area.
JPD has also created a See Something, Say Something anonymous tip line residents can use to report incidents. The number is 470-543-2011.
Henderson and City Manager Ricky Clark are also researching vendors with the intent to install cameras in the park and around the basketball courts.
The majority of council members are pleased with the plans in place. Nearly all agreed that the decision to close the courts permanently needs to be discussed further.
A motion made by Councilman Ed Wise to permanently close the courts failed with members Bobby Lester and Billy Powell in favor. Pat Sebo, Tracey Messick and Donya Sator voted against the measure. Day broke the tie, keeping the courts open.
Day said she’s in favor of “fighting back” against those who come into the community and commit such acts.
“Nobody’s going to chase me off the playground,” she said. “I don’t think we ought to give up our park.” She added that what’s happening can’t go on in a residential area.
“I hate to see it close, and we’re going to do the best we can to keep everyone safe,” she said.