Nowadays when a police officer picks up a basketball with kids in the street it seems to make a national headline. That is why APSO's Donaldsonville substation park idea is nothing short of amazing.
The police substation located at 1201 Maginnis is currently being transformed into a community park complete with picnic areas, child recreation facilities and basketball courts. It could serve as a constant force to bind law enforcement together with the community. The new park made headway last Friday, July 7 with the help of Volunteer Louisiana, the Lt. Governor's Office program and LSU students and faculty. At least 70 people volunteered, including but not limited to inmates, students and police officers.
Marybeth Lima, the Cliff and Nancy Spanier Alumni Professor of Biological and Agricultural Engineering and director of the Center for Community Engagement, Learning, and Leadership at LSU was one such faculty member hard at work. She got involved through Captain Ricky Bergeron.
"I worked with Leadership Ascension," Lima said. "They have that annual program where they do leadership training and then teams will work to do something with the community."
Lima said although she is from Baton Rouge she has "good Ascension connections."
"It was Ricky Bergeron's dream to build this playground," Lima said. "He said he hated to patrol the streets and kick the kids off the street, but he had to do it. All they were doing was playing. He connected with Leadership Ascension and they ran with his idea last year.
"I worked with Jackie Tisdell a very long time ago in the 90's when she was at ULL. I was doing playground stuff at that point, but she was doing service learning community engagement work, and that's how we met. She asked if we would work with [Leadership Ascension] on building [another] playground in Donaldsonville. Ricky was involved with that playground, too. We finished it last Spring. But the whole time, this was his dream right here. He contacted me a couple months later and asked could I come back and work with them again. I said absolutely!"
Moreover, Lima directs the LSU Community Playground Project since 1998. Her dream is to bring "an awesome, kid-designed playground to every public school in East Baton Rouge. Who better for the job?
Sheriff Jeffrey Wiley was at the park on Friday, as well. Wiley said that although it is an APSO substation that it will not be used for arrests. He said people will not see handcuffed criminals enter the building.
Wiley said he could not think of a precedent for a substation park located in a neighborhood with similar demographics from another law enforcement agency. He remains optimistic that children and families spending more time interacting with police officers in the community will lessen the cultural divide that exists.
Much of the park is complete. Officers say it should be fully operational by August. That is obviously Phase 3.