By Benjamin Leger, The Lens contributing writer |
Every morning in New Orleans before the sun comes up, runners wind their way through the city’s public parks, getting in their miles before heading to work. Most of them probably don’t know they are breaking city law.
The city’s parks and public spaces are closed from 10:30 p.m. to 6 a.m., as protesters with Occupy New Orleans found out this week when they were evicted briefly from Duncan Plaza, partially for that reason.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu told the protesters, who had been in violation of the law for more than 60 days, that they were welcome to continue protesting during normal operating hours. In a notice New Orleans Police Department handed out before the eviction, the city cited two municipal codes they were violating:
City Code Sec. 106-138, which includes: “It shall be unlawful for any person to be on, in or upon a public playground of the city or a public park of the city which is under the supervision of the parkway and park commission between the hours of 10:30 p.m. and 6:00 a.m.; provided further, however, that between sunset and sunrise, it shall be unlawful for any person to be on, in or upon a public park under the supervision of the parkway and park commission which has no lights or facilities.”
City Code Sec. 146-276, which includes: “It shall be unlawful for any person to construct or maintain or operate any structure or service on, above or beneath the public streets and other public places within the city without permission of the council in accordance with the regulations provided in this article.”
But it’s hard to find that information if you don’t know where to look. The city’s Department of Parks and Parkways website doesn’t offer the basic information on operating hours of public parks, nor does it even give a listing of the public spaces under its jurisdiction.
A call to the department confirmed this information is not available online.
The eviction of Occupy New Orleans protesters brings up the question of how frequently city police enforce the rules for public park use. Washington Square in the Faubourg Marigny and Jackson Square are gated and can be closed at night. The New Orleans Police Department told a reporter that no information on arrests for violations of park regulations without a public records request, which would take months to process. The raw data on NOPD’s online crime map shows from June 2011, the farthest back you can go, to today there haven’t been any significant reports of disturbing the peace within the city’s public parks.
Neither Audubon Park nor City Park are operated by the city, though City Park is on public land, and therefore has regulations included in the municipal code. The city code bars people from sleeping overnight in the park and states that anyone found after 11 p.m. or 30 minutes before sunrise “shall be considered to be disturbing the peace by their presence in such areas and shall be presumed to be doing damage to the grass, foliage, and other property of City Park.”
Palmer Park on South Carrollton Avenue is not gated, and nearby resident Barry Brantley said it would be hard to find residents utilizing it after hours because so few streetlights around the park are working.
“Other than the security guard at Walgreens (across from the park), you do not see police cars in the neighborhood at night,” Brantley said.
Brantley is a member of the Carrollton-Riverbend Neighborhood Association. Another member of that group, Betty DiMarco, says the park is a safe place during daylight hours, but agrees police aren’t frequently monitoring activity after hours.
“I’m not sure we have the patrols that we need with all the other crime going on in the city,” DiMarco said.
Landrieu’s office did not return calls about enforcement of public park codes.