Clayton News-Star

Clayton Police look to add full-time parks officer

A resident walks at East Clayton Community Park off of Glen Laurel Road.
A resident walks at East Clayton Community Park off of Glen Laurel Road. FILE PHOTO

Police say a full-time parks officer would help keep the peace on Clayton’s greenways, ball fields and playgrounds.

Clayton Police Chief R.W. Bridges has asked town leaders to OK the special officer, who would patrol the town’s growing parks network.

“We have very safe parks and greenways,” Bridges said. “But we constantly hear about other jurisdictions having a problem, and we don’t want that to be us.”

The police department’s patrol division is currently responsible for watching over the town’s parks, including the 66-acre East Clayton Community Park, 42-acre Community Park on Amelia Church Road, Municipal Park near downtown and Legend Park on City Road.

Officers also patrol the Clayton Riverwalk on the Neuse and Sam’s Branch Greenway. Sam’s Branch is currently a one-mile trail spur, but the town plans to extend it several miles.

The town is also planning a 120-acre park along the Neuse River, and it purchased more park land earlier this year off of Little Creek Church Road.

Capt. Ritchie Herring said the town will eventually have more than 330 acres that the officer would patrol. He said the officer would work closely with parks and recreation staff to address their concerns and be present at ball games and other events.

“They would be doing everything a normal police officer would do, but only in these areas,” Herring said.

The officer would likely work afternoon or evening shifts, when residents typically visit the town’s parks.

Councilman Art Holder said he was concerned about the officer having to patrol such a large area. He said park patrol should be part of a regular officer’s duties.

Bridges said the park officer’s position would not preclude other officers from also patrolling those areas. He said a full-time parks officer, though, could devote more time to the different parks and develop relationships with frequent visitors.

Councilman Michael Grannis said he liked the idea of community policing. “I could even envision there could be some growth with this as we go along, especially with the addition of the two parks that are not yet developed,” he said.

The Clayton Police Department included extra money in this year’s budget for an “over-hire” position, or money the chief could use to hire an officer during the year. When the department didn’t find any candidates, Town Manager Steve Biggs asked Bridges how the department could best use the “over-hire” money.

Herring came up with the idea for the park officer.

Going forward, the Clayton Town Council must decide if it wants to add the extra position. If it does, then it has decisions to make about funding.

The “over-hire” money is equivalent to half of an officer’s salary. To keep the park officer long term, the council would have to approve funding in next year’s police budget.