One of Fort Wayne's most notable assets is our outstanding Parks and Recreation Department. We have 87 parks throughout Fort Wayne, and soon that number will increase. One of the larger and more widely used parks in the southwest quadrant of the city is Foster Park.
Fort Wayne is also enjoying an increase in the diversity of our community. We all reap the benefits of having a multi-cultural city, but many of our residents whose native tongue is not English face difficult challenges with language or cultural differences.
Last summer, there were some problems in Foster Park due to the large increase in usage. This year, the Fort Wayne Police Department has developed a pilot program to solve those problems. Officers patrolling Foster Park were finding that some park users were breaking park rules, not out of any desire to ignore park rules and regulations, but simply because of those same language or cultural barriers.
Police Officers were noting increases in loud music, people parking in the grass, pets being left off their leash, and alcohol being consumed on park grounds. In many other countries alcohol is permitted in parks. However, alcohol is strictly forbidden in Fort Wayne's parks. People were also walking across the golf course and exposing themselves to the risk of being hit by a golf ball. In one instance, a couple had placed their picnic in the middle of the golf course fairway.
Signs were posted in Spanish, which listed parks rules, but there was difficulty with an exact translation. For example, there is no word for pet in Spanish. Unfortunately, some of the problems persisted.
This year, the Fort Wayne Police Department, with help from the Hispanic Leadership Coalition, has developed a program called the Police Ambassadors or Embajador de la Policia. The purpose of the program is to keep everyone safe, allow everyone to enjoy the park, and maintain an atmosphere that is friendly to families.
The Hispanic Leadership Coalition and representatives from the FWPD went to local churches to recruit volunteers who were bilingual to serve as ambassadors in the park. These volunteers will wear special ball-caps and will be trained on all the rules of conduct in the park. The job of the volunteer will be to politely approach those they see breaking a park rule and in their own language explain the park rules. The focus of the program will stress education and not punishment. If the volunteer faces a more serious problem they will be able to contact police bike patrols to handle the situation.
The FWPD has had an excellent response from residents. There are currently 30 volunteers ready to start patrolling on the weekend of June 29, 2002. If the program works well in Foster Park, the FWPD will look at other areas where the program would be useful.