Dover still seeking gates for Schutte Park

Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen and city officials are looking to add a pair of gates and increase security at Schutte Park, where a Delaware State University student was fatally shot at an impromptu late-night party in September. (Delaware State News/Mike Finney)

DOVER — Mayor Robin Christiansen’s crusade to increase security at Schutte Park continues to push forward as Dover Assistant City Manager Matt Harline provided an update on the city’s plan before the Parks, Recreation, and Community Enhancement Committee last week.

Mayor Christiansen said measures need to take place to avoid situations like the large impromptu late-night party in late September at the park that attracted an estimated 300 to 500 attendees and was the site of a fatal shooting in which Delaware State University student Devin Wright, 20, was shot in the head at the park and later died at Bayhealth Hospital, Kent Campus.

“We’ve been considering adding a gate to Schutte Park for a while now and this event (fatal shooting) is going to expedite it,” Mayor Christiansen said, in response to Mr. Wright’s death.

Mr. Harline said city staff is recommending the installation of signs that specify the hours that Schutte Park is open, proceed with a gate at the entrance to the main parking lot to the John W. Pitts Recreation Center, pursue options for a second gate across Electric Avenue directly south of the main entrance to the Pitts Center and to look into installing security cameras in the Pitts Center parking lot.

The project is estimated to cost between $2,000 to $30,000, depending on what measures city officials agree needs to be done to improve security at Schutte Park. The committee requested more information about the project before it proceeds.

Mr. Harline said improving safety at all of Dover’s parks is important and begins with securing their entrances at dusk.

“We have several issues that might be improved by additional gates (at Schutte Park),” he said.

“Of course, there is a gate at the back of the park that blocks off the DNREC permitted yard waste area.

“Staff has already begun the process to put a gate across the main entrance to the parking lot to the Pitts Center, and we’re investigating an automatic opening gate that would be just to the south, which is the number two gate that would allow access to Proctor and Gamble staff.”

Mr. Harline added that there have been several occasions where cars have driven off Electric Avenue where the road bends to the east at a 90-degree angle. In the most recent accident, a car drove through the fence and did some damage to a water pump station.

The city also has had some problems with illegal dumping in the area.

Two weeks ago, city staff studied the Schutte Park security issue along with the leadership of Dover Parks, Recreation and Grounds, the Dover Police Department, Central Services, Public Works and Mayor Christiansen.

Together, they came up with a four-pronged plan: improving signs that clearly state when the park is open and when people will be trespassing, pursuing an ordinance that says gatherings in city parks of more than 100 people require a permit to rent a space (or an event permit), installing the pair of gates — one manned and one automated — and additional security cameras along with more fencing.

“I think we can make this area a little more secure, both for events that are spontaneous and to minimize damage to our facilities from cars,” said Mr. Harline. “We had that accident where somebody ran off (Electric Avenue) and ran into the water pump station, and then finally to minimize illegal dumping.”

City Councilman Fred Neil said he wanted more information about the scope of the project before moving it forward.

“It seems a little bit premature,” Councilman Neil said. “I think I would like to have more of the details here, because (Mr. Harline is) still looking for information on a number of things, including where the cost is going to come from.”

City Council President William Hare and Councilman Tim Slavin didn’t think the Parks, Recreation, and Community Enhancement Committee or city council needed to be involved in voting on this type of project — saying it could easily be handled by city staff.

“I don’t know about the gates … I don’t know what needs to be done. But staff knows what needs to be done,” Councilman Hare said. “They know what they need to do, and I think it’s up to them to put the plan together and say, ‘Here’s what we’re going to do,’ and then basically do it.

“I don’t know if we have to approve it to put a gate up to stop this. I don’t know that we need to be telling (staff) what to do with this situation. I think it’s up to them.”

Councilman Slavin took it a step further and wondered about several items that have been placed on recent Council Committee of the Whole agendas that have led to marathon meetings, including the one last week which lasted more than four hours.

“There’s a reason why the council committee structure is set up to be a recommendation to council and then two weeks later council takes the matter up,” Councilman Slavin said. “It’s because it’s been for items that deserve a level of debate and time to take involvement from the public to make critical decisions about division and strategy for the city.

“It’s absurd to think we are requiring staff to come to us for a gate replacement that will take four weeks to get approved from council before they can even begin the process of procuring and putting a solution in place.

“This is a recipe for slowing the city down to a crawl and honestly it just has to stop. These committee meetings where we’re loading these things up with items all over the rainbow … now we’re talking about having to authorize fencing, which is perfectly under the purview of the city manager. We need to refocus why we have the committee meetings and what the important items are that we’re bringing forth.”

In the meantime, Mayor Christiansen said police patrols have been significantly increased at Schutte and all city parks, and associated laws strictly enforced.

The mayor insists something needs to be done in response to the loss of a young man’s life at Schutte Park so that such an event doesn’t happen again.

“I am saddened and appalled by this young person’s death, which has extinguished the opportunity for a very promising future,” he said.