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Headlines Misinforming Concerning Square Debate


This morning, I found this headline in bold across the top of the front page in today's News-Leader: "More crime on Square after 11" This bothers me because yesterday I saw in the headlines that City Council was to be discussing the possibility of entering in an ordinance that would make it a crime to be anywhere in Park Central Square after 11:00 pm. Not only would it be a crime but one punishable by 180 days in jail or $1000 fine or BOTH! In the News-Leader article the author questioned the call for such an ordinance. He asked for numbers and instances that would justify the city removing access to such a highly used public space. And, I thought, "Yeah!" Where is the evidence that deems it necessary for such an erroneous law that undermines civil liberty?

Well, today's article was an obvious answer to that request. And the News-Leader printed it, and apparently they are satisfied with the answer given to them. But, I am not. Here's why. The only numbers reported to justify this claim of increased crime after 11:00 is this:

Since Jan. 1, about 29 percent of all police events logged at the square occurred during the six-hour period from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. according to data released by the department Wednesday.

Does anyone else see the flawed thinking in these reported numbers? First of all, 29 percent of all police events logged is not at all extreme given that the time period in which this percentage stems from is a 6-hour period which equals 25 percent of a day. So, naturally we would expect around 25 percent of police events to take place.

Second, what constitutes a "police event"? Since Jan 1, I've only congregated with friends at the square one time. I saw families, children, plenty of teens, library-goers, coffee shop frequenters, and lots of church groups. I enjoyed the night as did my wife and my 1 1/2 year old (at the time) son. I only saw one "police event" that evening and it was a cop who "pulled over" a pedestrian for walking on the grass. The pedestrian was detained for about 15 minutes while he was ticketed for this offense. I'll restrain my comments on the blatant stupidity of making walking on grass a crime in a park, but surely I conveyed my feelings effectively with just these words. Since walking on grass became a crime this year, and police officers are showing no hesitation in issuing tickets which are logged, and the time period in which there are the most pedestrians and police officers in the area of the square is between these hours, wouldn't it then stand to be reasonable that the percentage of all logged police events would be higher during the time period of 11 to 5?

Third, I refuse to name names but there was a small populace in our group that was uncomfortable with a certain group of teenage boys standing nearby. I was disappointed in these unnamed friends of mine in that they were clearly misjudging the youths. They were doing what almost all teenage boys do. They were over-dramatacizing a conversation about what someone said and they were puffing up their chests and dramatically saying what they were going to do about it. It was really only one or two guys performing the drama and the rest were simply following them around to see if they would get a free show. Of course, nothing came of it. It was very similar to how I've seen wild horses act on PBS. It's all for show; a demonstration of the Male's power; a rite of passage. I seriously thought nothing of it, until I saw that the show was making some of my fellow stallions uneasy. It wasn't directed at us or anyone else on the Square for that matter. And if the party in which was being talked about had been present the voicer would not have been so vocal. My point for telling this story is that some somewhat sheltered people I knew were viewing this as something that the police should be interested in. Someone on the Square may have even called them about these boys. It's these teenagers (half adult/half children) that are being viewed as nuisances and are the driving force of the voice that is supporting the new proposed ordinance.

Fourth and last, isn't it safe to say that around bars' closing times that police activity goes through the roof? I'm willing to bet that the largest amount of "police events" are around closing time and the people who cause the event are from the bars, NOT from the ones hanging out on the Square. I'm also willing to bet that the bulk of the reported 29 percent is this group, NOT the people hanging out on the Square.

I think that with all four of these reasons coming together it stands to create a perceived increase in the amount of crime on the square for this late time period. In my opinion, this new ordinance, if passed, will not improve the City of Springfield in any way. In fact, it will only counter the effort that Square improvements are trying to do: Make the Square a more welcoming public place.

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