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Seeking answers to park attacks

Queen Elizabeth Park Boats rental company owner Peter Douglas wants to set up a community patrol group to monitor skatepark behaviour. PHOTOS/TOM TAYLOR

TOM TAYLOR
[email protected]

As violent incidents at Masterton’s new skatepark continue to emerge, a former park warden has come forward with a plan to crack down on bad behaviour.

In recent days, strings of comments on community social media pages have detailed acts of harassment and violence at the skatepark on the edge of the award-winning Queen Elizabeth Park.

One parent, who the Times-Age agreed not to name, shared her story after helping to break up a fight between two girls.

About two weeks ago, the parent was at the skatepark and had seen a large group of children gathering. Concerned for her own children, she decided to investigate.

“They were just arguing at that point,” the parent said.

“[Then] we saw one girl fling her jersey at the other girl – she had a rock inside it.

“At that point, my sister-in-law jumped forward and yelled at them to cut it out. By the time I got there, three adults were trying to separate the girls and pry one girl’s fingers out of the other’s hair.

“An elderly lady was on the ground by this point as the girl who started the fight had booted her.”

Once the fight was broken up, a man told those involved in the fight to leave before the police showed up.

Masterton’s skatepark
Masterton’s skatepark has been the scene of bullying and violence in recent weeks

The parent continued playing with her children for about half an hour when a group of teenagers and pre-teens surrounded them and asked why they had stopped the fight.

“We knew there was nothing we could do to defend our children as these teens were minors, so we packed up our kids with the help of some bystanders and left before they tried anything else.

“We were told most of these kids were carrying weapons of some sort.”

Peter Douglas, former warden of Queen Elizabeth Park and current owner of a boat rental company at the park’s lake, said violence at the skatepark was getting out of hand.

“It’s come to a point now where it’s got to be stopped, or it’s going to get worse,” Douglas said.

“The skatepark is a fantastic facility, and this will ruin it for everybody.”

Douglas had put the call out for community members to join an “action patrol group” to monitor activity at the skatepark.

He said the group would need about 12 members to operate throughout the day and early evening.

“For this to stop, we’d go in there, and if people were bullying others, we’d give them verbal warnings. If we saw a group attacking young kids, they would be banned straight away.

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“I think once we ban one group, the kids might sit up and listen. But until some action is taken, it’s just going to escalate.”

Douglas had yet to seek approval from the police or Masterton District Council [MDC] but said any patrol group would only act with their permission.

Masterton Police senior sergeant Ian Osland said he was not aware of any community groups looking to patrol the park. He said police had already directed staff to complete regular walk-throughs of the entire park, including the skatepark, and respond readily to any threats of violence.

Osland said that members of the public should call 111 rather than the council if there were any immediate threats.

“If something is happening there and then, or there is a risk to life or property, that’s a 111 call. Get police there, and we’ll intervene,” Osland said.

On Thursday, MDC gave police the authority to trespass individuals from Queen Elizabeth Park under the Trespass Act 1980.

Osland said police could use the trespass authority as one tool, alongside the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989, which promoted the wellbeing of children and their families.

He said that in recent months, police had intervened in some situations – not at the skatepark – where children were found in possession of knives.

“If one kid has a knife out of all the users, one is too many, and that one kid does pose a threat. But as to the safety of the park, I think it is generally okay.

“We’re in a growing pain phase, with people adjusting to having a great facility that will attract a lot of people.”

Osland said that police had intervened in some incidents at the park and held children accountable, although this did not necessarily result in charges.

“That comes down to the age of the people who have offended to date and the legislative processes we are bound by to hold them accountable.

“It might not necessarily lead to an arrest and a charge in court, but it doesn’t mean that there isn’t an accountability process through the Oranga Tamariki Act.”

Earlier this year, Queen Elizabeth Park received its fourth Green Flag award, an international recognition of a quality park judged on criteria including community involvement, accessibility, and providing a warm welcome.

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