The FCRA has sent the following email to the Mayor and Council in the hope of changing the City’s policy of not accepting calls about used syringes in parks and playgrounds. In response to this email, Dr. Penny Ballem, the City Manager, has responded that she is following up with staff. We await action on this important issue.
Dear Mayor and Council,
I am writing to bring your attention to a city policy that significantly increases the health and safety risk to children using municipal playgrounds.
You will appreciate that used syringes which are discarded in playgrounds pose a risk to children who may pick up such articles and cause serious harm to themselves or their playmates. Parents or caregivers who take their children to our playgrounds are aware of this danger and are anxious to report such articles to civic authorities. Similarly, interested residents, runners, dog walkers etc. who spot these articles in parks and playgrounds want to keep the area safe from obvious hazards.
The 311 system was developed at considerable public expense to facilitate such reporting. Many residents have a cell phone and will call 311, only to be told that the city doesn’t accept those calls. As you likely know, the City has contracted out the needle pick-up service. We are advised that 311 will not forward calls to an outside agency.
We have made numerous attempts to have the 311 administrators change this policy in order to ensure that playgrounds are safe for children. However, 311 stands firm in their position that all residents should attend parks with paper and pen, and at least one free hand, so they can record the needle pick number and make a second call. All this, presumably while maintaining control over their children.
The False Creek Residents Association has been working closely with the Police Department and the Parks Board to improve safety in local parks. Senior representatives on our working group, Inspector Howard Chow and Park Director Bill Harding, have been very helpful and supportive. We appreciate their active involvement and commitment. Both would like to see this problem solved. Neither have been able to influence the 311 policy. Parents and caregivers are anxious to work with civic officials, to be an extra set of ‘eyes’, and assist in keeping public areas safe. The current policy is a barrier to this important aspect of engagement.
We are advised by 311 administrators that the policy is based on the preference of the outside contractor to have the personal information of the caller. This apparently trumps children’s safety.
We hope you will agree that children’s safety is paramount, and the City should do whatever is necessary to ensure that used syringes, used condoms, and other hazardous materials are removed as soon as possible from the playground area. We have a collection of photos of syringes in playgrounds, hidden in play structures, strewn on the ground, on benches, in the grass etc. I can provide these if necessary.
If the City can have a ‘one stop service’ for tax collection, surely we can extend the same concept to the collection of used syringes from children’s play areas.