Because a “creepy” man reportedly entered the playground area of Lincoln Park in Jersey City and took pictures of children there recently, the Hudson County Board of Freeholders has moved to ban adults unaccompanied by children from playgrounds in any of the county parks. These include fenced-in playground areas like those within Columbus Park in Hoboken and any playground specific areas in parks like Braddock Park in North Bergen.
The freeholder board introduced the ordinance at its Aug. 4 meeting and will hold a public hearing on the matter in September. It pertains to anyone over 12 years old, so that it also keeps teens off kiddie equipment unless they are there with a minor.
“We got complaints that there was an [adult] individual inside the playground taking pictures of the kids,” said Freeholder Bill O’Dea. “Adults that aren’t accompanying children should not be in those spaces unless they are there with a parent’s permission.”
“The man himself was taking pictures. He was under a shelter. He looked very creepy.” – Bill O’Dea
The county ban would affect every county park playground, and would require county sheriff’s officers, who are responsible for patrolling the parks, to question such individuals.
“The man who was taking photos was described as ‘creepy,’ ” O’Dea said in an interview last week. He added that adults inside playground areas are very likely those associated with loitering.
“Meanwhile, we’ve already put up signs,” O’Dea said. “We originally put up paper signs. But we have metal signs up now in Lincoln Park and will be posting them in the other parks as well.”
The ordinance is modeled after ordinances passed in New York City and other municipalities across the nation. It prohibits any adult other than a supervising or adult accompanying a child from entering a playground.
An adult is considered anyone over 18, and a child is anyone 12 or under. The ordinance would affect any play area where a sign is posted. Fines could be as high as $500 for a first offense.
The safety of children
O’Dea said children who are in play areas need to feel safe, and adults without kids violate that sense of safety.
The ordinance is also meant to curb other abuses, including the inappropriate use of playground equipment by older kids.
O’Dea said the equipment is designed for kids of certain age, yet older teens have been using things like swings, thus creating wear and tear on the equipment.
O’Dea said there was a lot of buzz about the Lincoln Park incident on social media.
“I’m not of the high tech generation, but I’m told someone took a picture of the man and posted in on Facebook. The man himself was taking pictures. He was under a shelter. He looked very creepy.”
O’Dea said once alerted, he checked with the county Legal Department.
“I wanted to know if we had a law,” he said.
While the Sheriff’s Department can look into any suspicious activity, there was no law on the books prohibiting adults from going into playground areas or teens from using equipment.
“Even though we’ve only introduced the ordinance, we’ve asked the sheriff’s department to enforce it before we pass it, and to find out who these individuals are,” O’Dea said. “This is a bigger problem than just adults being in the wrong place. Having 18 and 19 year olds using equipment meant for younger kids means the equipment will break down sooner and need to be replaced.”
The burden of enforcement will largely fall on sheriff’s department patrols since not all playground areas in county parks are covered by the video surveillance system, O’Dea said.
“Besides, some folks know how to avoid cameras,” he said. “And some know how to not be recognized, such as wearing baseball caps so their faces can’t be seen.”
The ordinance, however, may not have an effect on graffiti, which is a common problem in all the parks.
“Most of that activity goes on at night,” O’Dea said.
This ordinance is designed to protect kids during daylight hours when the playgrounds are in use. “The department already has sheriff’s officers near the playgrounds during peak hours,” he said. “Sometimes, they get called away.”
The ordinance is also aimed at protecting large groups of kids that use play areas during the summer as part of day care activities or school camps.
O’Dea said he hoped to meet with officials from Jersey City to encourage a similar ban in municipal park playgrounds.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org