Q&A: Lakewood Council Member On Police Decision To Close Basketball Courts

An empty basketball court in Lakewood's Madison Park, with both basketball hoops and backboards removed from their posts.
The basketball hoops at Madison Park have been removed as police continue investigating two shootings at the park. Lakewood Police Chief Kevin Kaucheck said they could go back up within a week but he would not commit to a date.. [Taylor Haggerty / ideastream]
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Lakewood residents demanded a quick return of basketball hoops to Madison Park, after they were removed by the city as police investigate two recent shootings. At Monday night’s Lakewood City Council public safety committee meeting, neighbors urged the city to include community members in any safety plan. Councilwoman Tess Neff, who represents Ward 1 in Lakewood and leads the public safety committee spoke with ideastream’s Amy Eddings on Morning Edition Tuesday.

Police Chief Kevin Kaucheck could not provide details as to why he recommended removing the hoops, citing only “further evidence” in their investigation. Did you get any background information that you can share with us?

You know, Amy, council did receive some intel the day that the basketball hoops were being dismantled. And based on Chief Kaucheck’s belief that there was a causation to that intel to the removal of the hoops, we understood the decision. But it’s nothing I can share because it is a pending investigation and it could jeopardize matters and create some issues of public safety for the community.  

Lakewood City Councilmember Tess Neff, standing before the flags of the United States of America and the State of Ohio.
Tess Neff represents Ward 1 on Lakewood City Council. [City of Lakewood, Ohio]

Mayor Meghan George said the city is getting more surveillance cameras in four to six weeks. But one member of the public said last night that there’s a sense that the cameras either don’t work or clearly aren’t acting as a deterrent. What are your thoughts on that?

The cameras do work, if what Mayor George is telling us is accurate and I see no reason why she wouldn’t be correct in that. And cameras can be a deterrent. But they’re not foolproof. So people have to be observant. The community has to be involved. Our Lakewood police need to be active in the parks, walking, which they confirmed they will be doing that in the future.

One resident who was present, he really spent a lot of time on the courts and was organizing talks over the weekend. He was talking about the community acting in a surveillance matter. The more people you can attract to the park by adding barbecue grills next to the courts, the more you make it a destination, the more there will just be eyes on the courts and eyes in the park. What do you think of his thoughts about that, about making those basketball courts more of a destination as one way to deter violence?

Yes, his name is Randy Brown and he’s with the Lakewood Outdoor Basketball Committee. I agree with him 100 percent. And actually, that’s a resolution and a communication that myself and two other council members support in taking what’s considered like a community holistic approach.

When I attended last Saturday’s committee meeting at the Madison Park courts, I mean, it was wonderful. There was probably about 40 people, just airing their concerns, trying to come up with solutions. So, the community is a significant component of keeping our parks open and safe.

I didn’t hear anything from residents last night at that committee meeting but do you see any racial bias in the decision to take down the basketball hoops?

It’s a good question. I see both sides of it. I think we need to be thoughtful and planful when these decisions are made. I’m trusting what Chief Kaucheck told council, that there is information that caused them to make that decision. It may look otherwise to people, but I have to have faith in our police department. And I hope we can get those courts up as soon as possible. I’m an advocate for the courts and the hoops.

And you know, my son was there, Amy, the day of that shooting, with his young adult friends, playing basketball. They were about 50, 60 feet away. And neither he nor I are advocating to have the hoops down. So, it’s just, we’re in support of it and at the same time we’re supporting the police decision for their rationale. 

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