ST. LOUIS • Alderman John Collins-Muhammad says he’s spent more than a year unsuccessfully trying to get security into the parks in his ward to stem violent crime, speeding cars and garbage dumping.
Now, he’s issued an ultimatum: serious movement toward full-time patrols in O’Fallon Park by Friday, or he’ll shut it down.
Police and city officials say an alderman doesn’t have the authority to do that, but Collins-Muhammad doesn’t care.
“When people ask me, is O’Fallon safe? I have to be honest. No. It’s not a park I would take my son to,” he said.
It’s a battle he’s inherited from his predecessor, former 21st Ward Alderman Antonio French. French fought for permanent park rangers in his neighborhood parks and argued that the city allocated too many resources to Forest Park and parks in south city.
“Four years later, I’m fighting the same fight,” Collins-Muhammad said.
Last month, the alderman initially voted against the city’s 2019 budget in the Board of Aldermen’s Ways and Means Committee, in an attempt to leverage his vote for funding for park rangers in O’Fallon and Fairground parks.
“We keep seeing homicides. We keep seeing car incidents. We keep seeing gang activity, illegal drug sales. We keep seeing these in north city parks,” he said at the time.
With a July 1 deadline looming, Collins-Muhammad eventually voted the spending plan through, explaining that he understood it needed to pass on time to ensure money for other priorities.
But he hasn’t seen much motivation to address the issue since. So he took to Facebook on Tuesday vowing to shutter O’Fallon Park, despite some pushback from its frequent visitors.
“I don’t want people outside north St. Louis to think this action is against the average every day parkgoer. It’s more so against the city government, which refuses to invest in us,” he explained.
But under the city charter, the decision to close a city park rests with the parks division or police department. Either entity can opt to close a park if public safety is at risk, according to Greg Hayes, who directs the city’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Forestry.
Collins-Muhammad asked police to close O’Fallon Park for an evening in May, citing “complete chaos” that included littering and loud music.
A spokesman for Mayor Lyda Krewson said she was committed to working with aldermen to maintain the city’s parks, “keeping them clean and safe for all who visit them.”
Collins-Muhammad said he had been in touch with both the mayor’s office and St. Louis Police Chief John Hayden this week.
‘The problem is, I’m tired of meetings. We’ve done this seven or eight times,” he said. “I think we have to as a city and as a government; we have to safeguard these two amenities of our community.”