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Lafayette park officials have lost sight of their goals

Wednesday, July 24, 2013 - 12:01 am

Everyone is being punished, not just the few transgressors.

Lafayette officials are providing a useful example for the rest of the state on how not to handle the problem of rowdy teens congregating.

The teens in question were hanging out at the basketball court in the city's Columbian Park, yes, playing hoops, but also cursing so loudly it could be heard in nearby neighborhoods and, occasionally, halting play long enough for a hearty, old-fashioned brawl. After getting complaints from park visitors and neighbors, officials found a quick and simple solution. They removed the basketball hoops.

Tom Rankin, the city's parks, safety and security director, said the removal has reduced loitering and rowdiness to a minimum. The problem, as a growing number of critics have pointed out, is that this more of an “uneasy peace” than a real solution. The relative calm in the park might lead to problems elsewhere – in fact, to multiple elsewheres. Graffiti around the park is already up, including such gems as “Kill Lafayette Police Department.” By focusing on where the teens misbehave, the city is ignoring its real problem, which is that too many teens there have no respect for the law.

Furthermore, this is the type of action that punishes everybody for the transgressions of a few. It takes away one of the amenities of a public park from everyone who want to use it, not just those who might misuse it. Such hamfisted “solutions” happen more and more these days, and the world is less enjoyable because of it. We are too often prisoners of others' bad behavior.

The city should decide on the appropriate punishment for guilty parties, even if it's just a stern “Break it up and move along,” make sure that the punishment is clearly understood by all, then apply it every time. Then the rest of its basketball-enjoying residents can be left alone.

Another victory for downtown

Congratulations to local Republicans, who managed to persuade the state party to have its convention in Fort Wayne next year. It will be the convention's first-ever convening outside of Indianapolis, and the Allen County GOP hopes it will be as successful as the Indiana Democratic Party's convention here last year, also a first.

The immediate benefit will be the money spent here by the delegates, about 2,000 of them. But there will be a long-term effect, too – a word-of-mouth ripple effect statewide about how vital downtown Fort Wayne has become. That will only add to the momentum that has been obvious for some time now. All the time and energy spent there is starting to pay off.