OGDENSBURG — A city woman who was recently ticketed for allowing her 12-year-old son to play pick-up sports in the street outside their home thinks the municipality should rethink the ordinance and the way it’s enforced.
However, at a recent meeting of Ogdensburg City Council, officials expressed support for the law, which police say is needed to ensure public safety and to prevent unruliness.
Tamara Graveline, 424 Kiah St., was recently given a “parental responsibility notice” by the Ogdensburg Police Department. The ticket states that on the afternoon of Feb. 24, her son “committed an offense which constitutes a violation of playing in city streets, pursuant to section 153-4 of the Ogdensburg municipal codes.”
The notice further points out that additional violations could result in charges of trespass or disorderly conduct.
Ms. Graveline brought the issue to the attention of City Council. She pointed out that in today’s world of video games and other technology-driven forms of entertainment, playing outside should be encouraged, not treated as a criminal activity.
She quoted from the city’s ordinance itself, which reads that “no person shall play ball, or knock or kick any ball, or play any sport or game in any public street, lane or alley.”
The mother of two boys, ages 11 and 12, Ms. Graveline, employed as a nurse, said she encourages her children to be outside.
“I’m not here to dispute the fact that children should not be allowed to play in any street,” she said. “Not all children should be allowed to play in all streets.”
However, Ms. Graveline said street ball and street hockey and other sports-related activities should also be viewed as healthy activities and therefore encouraged — not discouraged.
She also suggested that having the no-street-play law on the books creates a situation where selected enforcement occurs, most often only after a neighbor lodges a complaint with city police.
Ms. Graveline said hundreds of people have offered their support and agreement with her views in comments posted on her Facebook page.
“Traditional street play is good for kids because it allows them to figure out how to use their environment in creative ways on their own,” she said.
She said kids playing stick ball, street hockey, jumping rope and other games gives them an opportunity to develop skills related to rulemaking as well as learning how to form their own shifting alliances with playmates.
“I would hope that kids of present time, as well as future generations, continue to enjoy this pastime,” Ms. Graveline said.
Ogdensburg Police Chief Andrew Kennedy said he understands that outdoor play is healthy, and he is not personally opposed to kids playing in the streets of Ogdensburg. But he said keeping a law on the city books specifically addressing the activity provides a way to limit unruliness and to ensure that children, and the public at large, remain safe.
Mr. Kennedy said that even without a law on the books specifically addressing children at play, there are other local laws that his officers would apply if they felt a situation was dangerous or creating a public nuisance. As an example, he pointed to the charge of disorderly conduct.
“If there was not a law saying kids can’t play in city streets, if they were obstructing the flow of traffic, it would still apply,” Mr. Kennedy said. “And in good conscience, to be honest with you, if there was a law or not, if there was a safety issue we certainly would be responding.”
Mayor Wayne Ashley said he, too, believes having an ordinance on the books that bars children from playing in the streets is valid.
“It’s a safety valve,” he said. “If there’s a problem, it gets enforced. If there isn’t a problem, kids play in the street.”