July 30--People who live near Hazleton's playgrounds have complained for years about criminal acts taking place in areas meant for recreation.
City police are hoping the combination of watchful neighbors and new cameras tied into the city-wide surveillance system will be the beginning of the end to those problems.
On Thursday, city workers installed concrete bases for poles that will hold the cameras at Lahm Avenue Playground in the Heights.
City police Chief Frank DeAndrea said the cameras were purchased by the Hazleton Area School District and will be installed by Northeast Remote Surveillance and Alarm LLC, Allentown. The company has placed other surveillance cameras in the city, and last week installed them at Pine Street Playground, DeAndrea said.
All city playgrounds eventually will have multiple cameras intended to curb criminal activity.
DeAndrea said that activity includes graffiti and other acts of vandalism, the use of drugs and alcohol, noise, fights and sexual acts.
On Wednesday night, DeAndrea said people were setting off illegal fireworks on Hazle Street in front of the Lahm Avenue Playground. He believes the cameras will prevent that type of crime in the future.
"The playgrounds have become playgrounds for drugs and sexual acts and we're cleaning it up," he said.
At Altmiller Playground, trees that blocked visibility from the outside were either cut back or removed with approval from the city's Shade Tree Commission, DeAndrea said. The trees, some of which grew out of a series of large rocks at the playground, were giving cover to those doing things they didn't want other people to see.
Janet and Stephen Bugda remember when they bought their home in the area of Altmiller 34 years ago. Then, they said, people used the playground for sports and other legal recreational activities like a Sunday bocce ball league.
The present uses of the playground, though, strike a strong discord with them.
For about 10 years, Janet said, she and her husband have complained about problems at the playground. She said they were relieved to see action was finally being taken.
Janet also suggested the city add lights to the playground to further increase visibility in the evening. She also wants to see it cleaned up regularly.
DeAndrea reminded residents to remain vigilant about calling 911 to alert police of any illegal activity, no matter how severe it is. He also encouraged people to join crime watches or form new ones in neighborhoods that don't have one.
Additionally, the chief awaits city council's approval of a curfew ordinance and a playground ordinance that would ban people from being inside a playground after dark.
Those caught breaking that law upon its approval or any other law at the playgrounds will be caught on camera and cited, he said.
Copyright 2012 - Standard-Speaker, Hazleton, Pa.