'No park visit without parent'; a fix, or a band-aid?
By Gordon Boyd
Eyewitness News Reporter
CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- Midweek and mid-day, most every child in Chattanooga's Coolidge Park has a parent or other grown-up close by.
Jeanne Bartell would have no qualms if that were the law.
"Parents should have ownership of their children," says this mother of a 13-year-old. "It doesn't take five minutes for a bad decision to be made and for something bad to happen."
Tuesday night, City Council approved first reading of an ordinance that would ban minors in the park unless a parent or guardian accompanies them. It follows the second shooting incident in Coolidge Park in as many years.
"The new ordinance would give us the ability to legally confront them," says Sgt. Craig Joel, of the Chattanooga Police Benevolent Association. "But at the same time, we can't contain them anywhere."
Chattanooga Chief of Police Bobby Dodd concedes the proposed ordinance presents legal and practical challenges.
We were told Tuesday that Juvenile Court could not support it unless there was an ordinance enacted," Chief Dodd says, "And even then it's gonna be limited as to what they can and can't do for us."
Bottom line: Chattanooga and Hamilton County have run out of room to hold wayward children while looking for grownup responsible for them.
Several city leaders tell Eyewitness News that any ordinance will be no more than a band-aid unless it focuses on the bigger problem, beyond Coolidge Park.
"I want something to educate em," Council member Russell Gilbert says.
Gilbert voted yes to get the ordinance past first reading. But he says he won't vote to enact unless all stakeholders, from state lawmakers to parents groups, agree to work together on ways to head off trouble *and* deal with proven troublemakers.
"I want something like a boot camp. If it's good enough for the military, it should be good for the kids," says Gilbert.
The ordinance will get its second reading in two weeks.
Saturday's shooting incident marks the second in Coolidge Park in as many years. But Kimberley Marek writes it off to 'odd circumstances.'
"I think Spring Break surprised the parents,' she says. "They didn't know where their kids were. They went out, and they were up to no good."
Still, Wednesday's visit to the park made her daughters Alex, 9 and Sydney, 7, a little nervous.
"They'd heard what had happened, but they knew I'd be close by," she says. "But I probably wouldn't bring them back in the evenings for awhile, until this thing settles down."