Cedar Rapids has banned alcohol in Greene Square Park, and is considering bans on drinking and smoking in all parks

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Video still of Greene Square Park as seen from the Cedar Rapids Public LIbrary.

Changes are coming to the oldest park in Cedar Rapids. Starting Saturday, alcohol will no longer be permitted in Greene Square Park. The city council unanimously approved the ban at its July 10 meeting. The vote came one month after Cedar Rapids Police Chief Wayne Jerman announced plans to install security cameras in the park, which has been the site of several violent incidents this year.

Greene Square will be the 28th park in Cedar Rapids where alcohol is prohibited without a special events permit. In the city’s other 69 parks, visitors are permitted to have up to a quart of alcohol.

The Cedar Rapids Police Department and the city’s parks and recreation department supported the Greene Square Park ban. Advocates for the ban said it would improve public safety in the park.

“Alcohol is a contributor towards many of the disturbances and other types of calls for service police are responding to in Greene Square,” Cedar Rapids Public Safety Communications Coordinator Greg Buelow told Little Village.

According to statistics the CRPD provided to the council, the department has had to respond to 57 incidents in Greene Square Park during the first six months of this year, almost doubling the 29 incidents to which it responded in the park between January and June in 2017.

“We want Greene Square to be a friendly place where everyone feels safe, and if this is an issue, it seems like a relatively easy fix,” Mayor Brad Hart said during the city council’s June 26 special session, during which the alcohol ban was discussed.

Greene Square was established in 1843, and is now bordered by the main branch of the Cedar Rapids Public Library and the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art. Earlier this year, City Council member Dale Todd, whose district covers downtown, created a working group that includes representatives from the police, the public library, the Cedar Rapids Downtown District and Willis Dady Homeless Services to make recommendations for addressing problems in the park. The working group recommended banning both alcohol and smoking in Greene Square.

The smoking ban was not included the resolution the city council passed on July 10, but during its June 26 special session, the council directed its staff to prepare a report within 30 days on the possibility of banning both alcohol and smoking in all 97 Cedar Rapids parks and at the city’s four public golf courses.

Installing security cameras was another suggestion by the working group. On June 12, CRPD Chief Jerman announced plans to install cameras in Greene Square, as well as other locations downtown and Redmond Park in southeast Cedar Rapids.

“They are intended to serve as a deterrent and aid in criminal investigations,” Buelow said.

Money for the cameras will come from the approximately $1.6 million the city has received so far through from the state’s offset program. The Iowa Department of Administrative Service’s offset program is used to collect debts owed to state and local government agencies. It seizes all state payments to an individual — including state tax refunds, lottery winnings and vendor payments — until the debt that was reported has been paid. Last September, the city council voted to send the names and Social Security numbers of people with unpaid traffic camera fines to the offset program, and the program began seizing those state payments this year.

Even before it began to use the offset program, no city in Iowa has made more money from traffic cameras than Cedar Rapids. Since Cedar Rapids began using automated traffic cameras in 2010, fines from the cameras have generated $3 million a year for the city’s general fund.

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The money collected through the offset program will be used for other public safety measures, such as portable barricades, in addition to the security cameras, Buelow explained.

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