Independence neighbors and park’s namesake concerned for safety after recent vandalism

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INDEPENDENCE, Mo. -- Vandals hit an Independence park this weekend, blasting a bathroom building with graffiti.

Thankfully, the mess at Van Hook Park has now been cleaned up, but the concerns from neighbors aren't going away so quickly.

Van Hook Park is nestled in a neighborhood with lots of trees. Its quiet surroundings are part of what people love and also what they fear makes it a target for bad behavior.

This weekend, someone sprayed hateful messages all over a park building.

"Certainly don't want any park to be unsafe for people who live around there," said Judy Standley, an Independence resident.

Independence police have been called to the park 44 times in the past year and a half. Neighbors said it's not uncommon to hear gunshots coming from Van Hook.

"It hurts," Standley said.

For Judy and Neal Standley, the park problems are quite personal.

The park is named for Judy's dad, John Van Hook, who is credited with creating Independence's park system. Van Hook Park was a former landfill, built up to create the public space.

"I know the city has priorities and realize that and know they do the best they can, but it's still John Van Hook Park and as long as his name is on it, I want it to be something," Standley said.

But right now, part of the park is gated off with weed overgrowth. Softball fields and a dog park that were there are now long gone. Soccer fields are rarely used.

The other side of the park, neighbors said, could be much better if the city would invest in some basic safety improvements, like locking the gate at night and adding lights or cameras.

"The park should be a happy place, not a place you're afraid of and live in fear of. So I'd hope something would be done," Standley said.

The city of Independence said safety and security is a priority at all of its 43 parks, and it's always looking at ways to improve.

Some residents told FOX4 they hope a recently approved tax hike, which includes extra money for parks, could be used to help make safety improvements at Van Hook -- and soon.

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