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Cameron crime By Cindy Szelag Staff Writer for The Baylor Lariat Stories and legends circulate around any city or community. In Waco, and especially among Baylor students, many legends involve the terrible things that can happen or have supposedly

Nov. 21, 1997

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November 21, 1997


Cameron crime

Cameron crime

By Cindy Szelag

Staff Writer for The Baylor Lariat

Stories and legends circulate around any city or community. In Waco, and especially among Baylor students, many legends involve the terrible things that can happen or have supposedly happened to visitors of William Cameron Park. For years, the common perception of Waco residents has been that this East Waco park is one of the most dangerous areas in town.

Despite the two bodies found last week, police and park officials do not think Cameron Park deserves the negative image it has acquired.

'I think it gets misrepresented because it had that reputation years ago,' Nora Schell, park ranger, said.

Sgt. Dennis Kidwell of the Waco Police Department said Cameron Park has always had a bad name, but has never deserved it.

'The crime rate in Cameron Park is very, very low,' Kidwell said. 'It's a very, very quiet area.'

There are several reasons for this reputation. While sometimes assaults do happen and bodies are found there, crimes usually don't originate in the park itself.

'Most of the things that happen in the park start somewhere else and end up in the park because it is an isolated area,' Kidwell said. 'Even the few sexual assaults that happened in the park started somewhere else.'

Another reason Waco residents hear so many bad things about Cameron Park is media coverage of crime events.

'It's because when something happens, it's in the news,' Kidwell said. 'People don't remember the good things that happen, they only remember the bad things.'

Although he says the park is generally a safe area, Kidwell said visitors to the park still need to exercise caution.

'I don't recommend going there at night. There's no sense in inviting trouble,' Kidwell said.

However, Kidwell said he doesn't really feel the park is more dangerous during the day than any other part of the city.

Schell, who has been a park ranger for 11 years, said there has not been a major crime problem since she has been there.

'As far as during the day, you don't see any crime at all,' Schell said.

Cameron Park has had its problems in the past, however.

'When I first started, the most dangerous thing was the cliffs,' Schell said.

Between 1982 and 1987, 14 people fell off the cliffs at Cameron Park. Schell said the most dangerous times were when there were boat races on the Bosque River, and people would watch from the top of the cliffs.

'Every boat race, it seemed like somebody was going to die for some reason,' Schell said.

However, that problem was curbed around five years ago when gates were put up to keep people from entering certain areas of the park after a certain time of night. Gates that prevent entry to Lovers Leap, Emmons Cliff, Mouth of Bosque, Circle Point and Lawson's Point are closed beginning at 11 p.m. to midnight, Schell said.

Besides preventing potentially fatal falls, Schell said the gates stop people from vandalizing and leaving trash in these areas as well.

Although the problem of people falling off the cliffs has been solved, another controversial problem may also be affecting Cameron Park.

One male Baylor student who asked not to be identified said that he was sitting in the park studying when a man came up and sat on a bench close to him. The man claimed to be from out of town.

The student said he asked the man why there were so many cars driving around the park.

'He said, 'They're probably trying to find someone to make out with,'' the student said. 'Then he asked me if I'd ever done anything like that.'

The student said he replied that he had not, told the man he had to study for a test and left.

Det. Larry Murphy, public information officer for the Waco Police Department, said this kind of homosexual propositioning is not unusual in Cameron Park.

'Periodically throughout the year, there are disorderly conduct complaints,' Murphy said. 'There are citations for that kind of behavior that are consistent with homosexual behavior, specifically public lewdness and exposure-type things.'

Murphy said the main reason these kinds of activities take place in Cameron Park is its isolated location.

'Just geographically, it being a park versus the front parking lot of the police station, this kind of thing is more likely to happen there,' Murphy said.

Murphy said it is difficult to tell the number of such incidents that take place in the park because it usually takes a park ranger walking in at the right moment.

'Usually if something like that happens and the party is not partaking, one party leaves,' Murphy said. 'Or if that's what they're there for, they wouldn't report it.'

Dr. Harold W. Osborne, professor and chair of sociology and master teacher, said that although he does not know that there is a problem in Cameron Park specifically, many times there are certain public places that homosexuals go to find a prospective partner.

'A certain type of homosexual may go to public places like restrooms or parks, and that's just where they go to find partners,' Osborne said. 'People may go to the park to find that kind of a partner.'

Osborne said there have not been any studies of this subject done in the sociology department at Baylor, but it seems to be a recurring theme in many public parks.

Kidwell, however, said there was one citation for indecent exposure this year.

'These were two homosexuals in a homosexual act,' Kidwell said. 'They came in together and did not proposition anyone.'

This call from the park ranger who discovered them was one of 18 total calls the Waco Police responded to from Cameron Park in 1997.

Kidwell said according to police records for the month of October 1997, there were no robberies, no assaults, no thefts, no drug offenses, no criminal mischief, no vehicle thefts, no recovered vehicles and one vehicle burglary in the park.

Theft may occur in the summertime, according to Waco Police, when more people visit the park for picnics and activities.

'In the summertime, we occasionally have a theft, where someone has set down a purse down and it will be gone,' Kidwell said. 'But overall, for the number of people who are in the park in a three-month period, I would say the rate of crime per person is less than it would be in other parts of town.'

Schell said she and the other park rangers have not noticed any particular time of year when crime levels escalate. However, she said the increased number of visitors in the summer months actually does more to deter crime than to cause it.

'I guess during the summer you have more people,' Schell said. 'The more people you have out there, the less crime you have. People don't want to do anything bad because somebody will see them.'

The park is patrolled and protected by park rangers and police officers.

'Actually, the park falls within two different beats, so we [the Waco Police] have two officers that patrol the parks from time to time,' Kidwell said. 'But they don't go there a lot, because there's no crime.'

Kidwell said the Waco Police also have bicycle patrols that occasionally make rounds through the park.

There are three full-time and four part-time park rangers that monitor city parks, including Cameron Park and Indian Springs Park. In Cameron Park, park rangers patrol during the day from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Night rangers begin their shift at 5 p.m., and their shift continues until the gates are locked between 11 p.m. and midnight.

'We're not law enforcement, so we don't carry handguns or anything like that,' Schell said. 'We do carry police radios, so we are in constant contact with the police and we can dispatch the police or an ambulance or anything like that.'

Rangers patrol either on bike, horseback, walking or driving.

'Being on horseback, you can really sneak up on people,' Schell said. 'A lot of people don't see us until we're practically on top of them.'

Schell said this also deters potential criminals, because they can never be sure if a police officer or park ranger is hiding in the bushes, observing them.

Besides the park ranger and police officer patrols, there are also other crime prevention tools in Cameron Park.

Schell said there are two call boxes located in the Pecan Bottoms and North Pecan Bottoms areas of the park that are equivalent to the boxes on Baylor campus. They were put in within the past two years as a trial program.

'I don't think they've been abused, but I don't think they've been used for a real emergency yet,' Schell said. 'I think for a first-time user of the park, it might make them feel more comfortable.'

The hikers and bikers who use the trails in Cameron Park may also feel more comfortable now. On Sat., Nov. 8, the park rangers finished marking the trails with directional signs.

Schell said in the future, there are more plans for the park in the area of crime prevention. The City of Waco is planning on hiring two more part-time park rangers to do bike and mounted patrol.

In addition, with the new riverwalk project, Schell expects more people to be drawn to the park.

'As the riverwalk expands toward the park, you're going to see more people finding ways to feel safe in the park,' Schell said.

The park rangers have also discussed a plan where mountain bike riders would volunteer to be trained in first aid and monitor the trails as they ride.

'That's just been in the talking stages,' Schell said. 'We haven't done anything about it yet.'

Schell said since she has been a ranger, she has seen an increase in the number of people visiting the park for activities such as mountain biking, rollerblading and walking. She said besides making the park more safe, it gives her a feeling of satisfaction also.

'It really makes you feel good about doing your job,' Schell said.

This is part four of a four-part series on William Cameron Park

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