Neighbors encourage more police presence, more family friendly activities in East Providence's Central Ave park
EAST PROVIDENCE — The recent shooting at the Onna Moniz John-Central Avenue Playground spurred a much-needed and well-intentioned meeting of East Providence officials and residents of the area Thursday evening, Oct. 10, at City Hall.
About 25 members of the community joined City Manager Peter Graczykowski, East Providence Police Chief Joseph Tavares and Ward 2 Councilman Helder Cunha among other department heads to take part in the gathering, which lasted for a few hours and touched on topics other than the injurious Sept. 29 shooting that left one young man in the hospital and two others arrested.
"A lot of good things came from the meeting, just a lot of good ideas about what we can do at the park going forward," Councilman Cunha said. "We discussed the shooting, but it was determined it was more of an isolated shooting, not something that happens all of the time."
Residents requested an increased police presence at the park. An effort is expected to be made by law enforcement to engage more with youngsters who use the grounds to play basketball and other activities. The Public Works and Highway departments also committed to maintaining the property on a more regular basis, including posting additional signs stating the 9 p.m. curfew at the park.
"It's one thing to have a police officer sitting in a car patrolling the park, but that's intimidating to young kids," Councilman Cunha said. "We want the officers to get out of the car and talk to them, interact with them more. The kids will feel more comfortable and open up to them if they do that. We also need to do something about the foul language you hear and the graffiti. We need to clean the place up a bit more."
EPPD Community Police Division Sergeant John Andrews agreed with that assessment, adding, "We're going to continue our presence there as much as possible. What I'm telling my guys is to get out and talk to the kids more, hang out, watch them play basketball, get to know the neighbors. It will definitely make it easier for us to communicate with them better."
The Councilman, who once lived in New York City before settling in his native East Providence, stated his support to events that would create a more family friendly atmosphere at the Central Avenue Playground. Besides the annual Neighborhood Day organized by Ms. Moniz-John and others, little else that brings the community together as a whole occurs there.
"I remember going to Movie Night at Battery Park when I lived in New York City. It was really nice, and that's something we can try here," Councilman Cunha continued. "People asked for lighting on the basketball court, but that could get costly. I was thinking of putting more lighting around the park and on the walkway. It would be a little less costly and it would give it a bit of a different look.
"I also brought up creating an ice rink for the kids to skate on during the winter time. The fire department could flood the low area to create the rink. And we could do something there around Christmas time, things that would make the area more family oriented."
The Councilman said the shooting and the ensuing meeting have shown a light on the ills and possibilities of Central Avenue area, things that must continue to be considered in the future.
"It was a good meeting. And there definitely needs to be a follow-up," Councilman Cunha added. "The park is going to be under scrutiny going forward. What we need to do is make it a safe, clean place so people can go there and enjoy themselves and not worry about their safety."
— Photos by Richard W. Dionne Jr.