Crime at new Silver Spring skate spot spark calls for more space
Park police keep sharp eye on new venue; skaters prepare formal request for more room
Two skateboarders smashed a basketball player on the head with their boards and another skater was arrested for smoking marijuana in the past week at the new Woodside Park skate spot in downtown Silver Spring, leading to fresh calls for a bigger venue for the growing crowd, police said.
The Maryland-National Capital Park Police have already made three drug arrests and responded to one call for harassment and an assault at the park since it opened July 30. The 3,000-square-foot skate spot has been flooded with skaters from all over Montgomery County and Washington, D.C., leading residents and skaters alike to claim the facility is simply too small a space. The crimes while not all related to skateboarders also indicate a disparity between the number of skaters and the space provided, said Darien L. Manley, park police chief for the Montgomery County division.
Meanwhile, park police have increased both regular and undercover patrols to the area due to the high usage of the new park, Manley said at a Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board meeting Monday night.
"Part of our presence is to help educate all park users in ways that they can get along in a courteous manner and share the space, but I don't think anyone quite expected [the skate spot] to reach that level of use quite so quickly," he said.
The first incident occurred Aug. 3 at 7:30 p.m., when a group of teens began harassing skaters at the park, said Takoma Park resident Mike Tidwell, who took his 13-year-old son and two friends to check out the skating space. At least one of the harassing teens, who were not skateboarding, implied that they were members of a gang and had a gun, Tidwell said.
After two skateboarders told him about the harassment, Tidwell called the police and quickly took the two young skaters, along with his son and friends, to a safe place. Montgomery County police did not find any evidence of a crime or the alleged gang members when they arrived at the park, said police spokeswoman Angela Cruz.
So far, park police have not identified any gang-affiliated people at the park when checked through a comprehensive gang database, said Manley, who believes those causing the trouble on Aug. 3 were likely not in a gang.
As a result of the incident, Tidwell thinks skaters need a larger, more public space where they can enjoy their sport while at the same time remaining in the public eye.
"They're not criminals, they just want a place to skate," Tidwell said Monday. "These boys have nowhere else to go; they're kicked out of every space they go to."
Skateboarding was most recently banned from Veterans Plaza in front of the recently opened Silver Spring Civic Building July 26 after plaza benches and steps began showing damage from the activity. The sport has long been discouraged elsewhere in the downtown area.
Park police responded Friday to an assault at the skate spot when a resident using the abutting basketball court apparently became engaged in a dispute with several skateboarders, Manley said. Two of the skaters allegedly used their boards to break the back window of the basketball player's vehicle, then they struck the man in the head with the boards before fleeing the scene, Manley said.
"The altercation grew over how close these skaters were getting to a young toddler who was apparently walking back and forth between the basketball area and the [skate spot]," Manley explained. "We've identified one of the parties, and we're likely going to be filing charges soon."
Park police have made four drug arrests in the park since the beginning of the year, including two residents arrested for smoking marijuana under a park pavilion Monday. Only one of the arrests involved a skateboarder, who was arrested Aug. 3 near the skate spot, Manley said.
"There's been no spike in citizen-generated calls since the skate park opened," he said today. "What we're finding is we're finding more incidents, because our officers are [at the park] more, because we want to head off any problems at that new attraction we have there."
The advisory board and Silver Spring Regional Services Center Director Reemberto Rodriguez are still awaiting a response from the 30 or more area skateboarders who attended a meeting in the civic building July 28 to present their arguments for additional skateboarding space in Silver Spring.
Local skater activist Maryam Balbed, known to local skaters by her nickname Sk8er Mom, plans to present skater requests to the board later this week in the form of a video, according to an e-mail sent to civic building staff Monday afternoon. The video will address, among other topics, the need for a larger, more public space for skaters.
Skateboarders and community residents alike are invited to join Maryland-National Capital Park Police Chief Darien L. Manley on a tour of the Woodside skate park beginning at 7 p.m. Thursday.