Derry & Strabane Council is examining hiring additional Park Rangers to help towards combating anti-social behaviour and ensuring the safety of park users.
The move comes after the positive impact bringing in an additional temporary park ranger based at St. Columb’s Park has had over the past five months, following a surge in troubling incidents the previous summer in 2017.
Karen Phillips, Council’s Head of Environment & Regeneration, said that they had initially planned to bring in two temporary rangers but were only able to recruit one given the short-term nature of the post.
Rangers are currently employed on site at two of the Council’s various parks, St Columb’s and Brooke Park, with a remit for the Derry area.
Reporting to the Environment & Regeneration Committee at its monthly meeting in the Guildhall, Karen Phillips said the council may wish to consider extending this to include the wider council area. “Whilst the vast majority of park users use the facilities appropriately there are occasions when groups/individuals have engaged in unacceptable behaviour impacting on other park users and nearby residents,” she said.
On occasion, the rangers, she said, will intervene to prevent unacceptable behaviours, and may seek the assistance of council’s Community Safety Wardens or the PSNI.
Speaking about St. Columb’s Park, she said: “Whilst the number of reported incidents of antisocial behaviour had increased in the park over recent years a notable decrease of such incidents has been evidenced this year. In addition it has also been noted that the numbers of people involved in such incidents has also decreased,” she said.
The committee was told that this could be attributed in part to interventions this year, such as new CCTV in St. Columb’s Park Stadium; an increased police presence, seizure of alcohol and postings on social media. There was also, among other initiatives, increased patrols by safety wardens and engagement with schools and clubs, while the Adventure Park was locked up at 6.30pm to prevent young people gathering.
Karen Phillips said the additional Park Ranger “has proved to be invaluable.”
The committee was told however that more widely there has been an increase in the number of incidents “in all our parks and playgrounds where Park Rangers have been subjected to verbal abuse and their vehicles have been attacked with stones and missiles.
“The additional staff resource specifically addresses the health and safety risks associated with lone working in these situations.”
She said that any future additional permanent Park Ranger staff would need to be considered as part of the rate setting exercise.
Sinn Fein Colr. Christopher Jackson said the rangers delivered an “invaluable service.” “They help make the park users or anybody using council facilities feel safe,” he said, adding that his party believed consideration needed to be given to rolling out the park ranger project across the city and district.
DUP Colr. Graham Warke congratulated all the partners who had helped reduce the incidence of anti-social behaviour. “A lot of good work has definitely happened,” he said.
SDLP Colr. Brian Tierney agreed that the park wardens were “completely invaluable”, but cautioned that the role of a park ranger should not be mixed up with the role of the PSNI officer or a community safety warden. Karen Phillips concurred that the roles were very different and said there needs to be “very close partnership between all the roles and the wider community.”
SDLP Colr. Gus Hastings said that the rural area would have to be looked at as well as the city.