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City leaders approve curfew for KC parks and trails

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Nothing good happens after midnight.

Several speakers used those words during Wednesday's Kansas City Council committee meeting at City Hall, as city leaders approve a curfew at public parks and trails. The ordinance and amendment passed the committee with a unanimous vote, and will be voted on by the full council on Thursday afternoon.

If that proposal passes the full council, it will go into effect as law ten days after it's acceptance by the council. As it stands, Kansas City public parks have no curfews.

"It's vital that we act. it's vital that we act now. I don't see much reason to delay," Third District Councilman Quinton Lucas said.

The new ordinance would place a curfew on all 221 public parks and trails in Kansas City, and would permit police to order people seen in parks between the hours of midnight and 5 a.m. to leave the park. City leaders say it's a move meant to keep people in the metro safer.

"It gives our law enforcement officers a tool they can use," John Sharp, former Kansas City council member, said.

"I had someone who was talking about the number of rapes, violent crimes and others that have occurred in parks, particularly in parks throughout Kansas City's Northeast community and others," Lucas commented.

Sharp, who now works with the South Kansas City Alliance, says he lives in the area near The Bay Water Park. Sharp says that community is still aching, roughly two years removed from the murder of 14-year old Alexis Kane. Court records say the teenager's body was found near the park, having been killed during the overnight hours. City council member Scott Taylor distributed a list of 15 neighboring cities which have curfews for their public parks.

"Park safety is our number one priority," Mark McHenry, Director of Kansas City Parks, told the committee. McHenry agrees the plan would remove the criminal opportunity from parks during the day's darkest hours.

"We'd open the parks at 5 a.m. We look at it as opening the parks. Start enjoying them at 5 a.m., but it's time to do something else when midnight rolls around," McHenry explained.

"There's nothing good that happens in a park at three in the morning," Sharp told reporters.

Sharp believes this plan will be helpful for areas like Indian Creek Trail. That south Kansas City area has been the scene of four recent murderers, dating back to August 2016. Police haven't made an arrest in those four cases.

"We want the parks to be open for folks to enjoy, but we also want them to be safe. We want them to be an asset to the community -- not a blighting influence," Sharp said.

However, community activists, such as Hannah Thomas, who works with the Marlborough East Neighborhood, aren't convinced. Thomas says she's aware of crimes that have happened near Marlborough Park, which rests near E. 83rd Street and Brooklyn Avenue. Thomas believes more conversation is needed before decisions are made. She's one of several speakers who moved in favor of an intricate series of surveillance cameras that would be used to observe overnight park activity.

"I'm not saying I'm completely against the hours in the parks, but there needs to be more than just police officers chasing people in the parks after hours to increase public safety," Thomas told members of the media.

Thomas was one of several presenters who argued that Kansas City Police Department resources are already stretched too thin.

Thursday's council meeting begins at 3 p.m. It's open to the public.