In an attempt to make Los Angeles parks seem super safe, City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell has proposed barring adults unaccompanied by children from entering playgrounds. It’s an effort, he said, to keep city parks “free of creepy activity.”
Who wouldn’t want to ban creepy activity or creepy people from playgrounds? But what O’Farrell is proposing goes far beyond targeting worrisome activities that, in most cases, are already outlawed. It would bar any adult from sitting on a bench, exercising or otherwise enjoying public space near playground unless he or she brought a child along. Is this really necessary?
His proposal is based on laws in place in a handful of major cities, including New York City, where police caused a minor uproar several years ago by ticketing people for sitting on playground-adjacent benches to eat donuts or play chess.
O’Farrell said he was inspired to propose the ban after residents in Hollywood complained that their local park had been taken over by drug dealers. That is real problem, and by all means, the city should crack down on illegal activity in playgrounds. But if drug dealing or vandalism is occuring at a site, then have police or park rangers patrol it regularly. If there is a childless adult hanging around, leering at kids or taking photographs, then enforce the state law that already makes it a criminal offense to loiter at a playground or school with an unlawful purpose.
O’Farrell argues that we can’t assume every adult who wanders into a children’s play area is benign. But why should the city assume that every adult without a child is a pedophile? That makes a childless adult a criminal just for being in a particular public space, which is an overreach that can lead to foolish enforcement — like ticketing people for sitting on a bench eating donuts.
This proposal is especially worrisome in light of the city’s effort to build more pocket parks to add open space and amenities in underserved areas. These small parks are often no more than a playground and some benches. Would childless adults be barred from taking advantage of the rare open space in their dense neighborhood? Surely there are smarter ways to deal with legitimate problems in public parks.