The Investigators: City employees reassigned to patrol parks

Park patrols pass out social distancing literature, break up crowds over 6 people

The Investigators: City employees reassigned to patrol parks

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Courtesy crews will be patrolling parks for the foreseeable future to make sure people follow the rules that remain in place under Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland’s amended safer-at-home order.

Many of the crews are city employees who have been reassigned because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We try to encourage people and inform people to stay at a safe distance,” said Corie Walker.

Walker is usually in the Pink Palace Museum as an exhibit preparator. However, since the museum closed, she has been patrolling Sea Isle Park in East Memphis.

“Usually I’m covered in sawdust and inside a dark wood shop but I get to be outside and interact with more people,” she said.

She now watches for people who may not be complying with social distancing requirements. While Strickland’s order continues to prohibit crowds of 10 or more, park employees will approach crowds of seven or more.

The employee will hand out social distancing literature and may ask a crowd to disperse.

“Everyone here has been really respectful,” said Walker. “I think the community itself really is looking out for the betterment of everybody. It’s been a nice job.”

Walker is one of 60 employees who have been reassigned since the pandemic either dramatically altered or shut down their day jobs.

One of them is Marcha Allen who works as a community engagement administrator, was responsible for getting people together inside city parks. Now, she’s trying to keep them apart.

“Literally I went from saying ‘hey hey go to the park! Let’s go to the park and have fun’ to ‘oh, let’s physically distance,'” she said.

Allen now oversees the crew that patrols the 35 busiest parks in Memphis every day from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Nicer weather will bring bigger crowds even though pavilions, outdoor exercise equipment and playgrounds remain closed.

Walking trails and green spaces are open but people from different households are asked to stay 6 feet apart.

While most people will listen to the parks crews, Allen estimates that two to three times a week, they will have to call Memphis Police when people don’t listen.

“We call because then it’s a public health issue and we’re not enforcers so we call MPD to do the enforcement,” she said.

When complaints come into 311 via phone or online, MPD or Code Enforcement will investigate.

Between May 1 and May 6, the mayor’s office reports that 43 complaints were made about crowds gathering in different parts of the city.

“That really hasn’t been the case in most of our parks. People have been adhering to what we’re asking them to do,” said Allen.

Meanwhile, anything you can touch like a swing set or playground will remain closed for the foreseeable future.

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