On a sunny Thursday afternoon, dozens of area residents can be seen jogging, biking or reading while their children play in the Root River Parkway. Less conspicuous are other parkway visitors whose activities aren’t as family friendly.
It’s a truth the Greendale Police Department has faced for many years: Root River Parkway has a reputation for drawing sometimes lewd gay sexual activity.
Although nothing new, such activity tends to increase in summer months locally in the elongated, multi-community park — which is why police are trying to monitor the area more closely now, Police Chief Robert Dams said.
“I don’t think it’s gotten worse, but it’s remained steady,” Dams said. “It’s not a huge problem, but we do get complaints, and it is going on. We have to clean it up.”
Looking for lewd activity
To do that, the department has sent teams of plain-clothed officers into Root River Parkway — the most problematic spots so far this year have been picnic areas 1, 1A and 2, which are all located near restrooms and parking lots.
Depending on the suspects’ actions, they may be arrested for disorderly conduct or lewd and lascivious behavior, in incidences of men who are exposing themselves or actually engaging in a sexual act, Detective Lt. Ryan Rosenow said.
However, many times police may talk with a suspect for a half hour and not make an arrest at all, Rosenow said. In those cases, police may at least identify themselves and make people aware that they will not tolerate any kind of sexual activity — whether it be between two men or a man and a woman — in parks, he said.
While the common element is that the majority of those generating such concerns are single white males, they are otherwise characteristically different from each other, said Rosenow. Some are retired. Some are unemployed. Some may have successful careers and a typical family life with wives and children.
Although they may blend in with innocent bystanders who aren’t aware of their intents and actions, they are usually easy to spot by trained police eyes, Rosenow said.
The first clue may be a man who is sitting alone at a picnic table near the restrooms, or driving alone among picnic areas in search of other men, he said. When he finds a fellow man who meets that description, he might make eye contact and enter the restroom, walk into the woods or park his vehicle for a short time, then drive away to another picnic area, in the hopes the other man will follow him, Rosenow explained.
A ride-along with an officer July 17 revealed about a half dozen potential violators — one of whom had been arrested twice for previous lewd and lascivious activities in Root River Parkway.
For example, on June 6, police arrested a 63-year-old man after he walked up to an unmarked police vehicle while masturbating.
In addition, a 40-year-old man was arrested June 13 for disorderly conduct, after mentioning sexual activities he wanted to engage in with the officer, and for carrying a concealed weapon, which Rosenow said illustrates the dangers officers can face in the parkway.
“The thing that makes it dangerous for officers is that some of these people have kids and families, and if they get arrested for something like this, they’re going to try to run or resist and fight, because this obviously isn’t something they want to get out,” he said.
For law enforcement officers, the problem is evident but not easily contained.
“We’re just reporting a small number of occurrences,” Rosenow said. “This goes on daily, and it’s not like it happens in the dead of night, when it’s dark outside. We’re seeing activity at its highest from about the noon hour until after dinner time.”
Dams said the department tries to assign people to the parkway on busy days, but variables such as manpower, caseload and priorities can impact the amount of time police are able to spend at Root River Parkway.
When police don’t have the capability to send in undercover forces, officers do try to write up their reports in the parkway or simply drive through.
Julie Becker can be reached at (262) 446-6606.
BY THE NUMBERS
arrests made by the Greendale Police Department in June and July for sexual activity in Root River Parkway
arrests made in 2007 for sexual activity in Root River Parkway
minimum fine for a person arrested for disorderly conduct
minimum fine for a person arrested for lewd and lascivious behavior