ID cards proposed for rec centers Photo identification would be required of children, adults

Fees set at $2 and $3

Directors differ on merits of proposal for city-run facilities

September 29, 1996|By Marilyn McCraven | Marilyn McCraven,SUN STAFF

People using any of the 58 Baltimore City recreation centers will be required to pay for identification cards to enter, according to interviews with directors of several centers and a memo obtained by The Sun.

The Aug. 14 departmental memo states that "All participants must have a yearly (Sept. 1 - Aug. 31) membership card," which will cost $2 or $3, depending on their age. Departmental sources said last week that the original starting date, Sept. 1, was changed to Tuesday, and may be postponed again.

Department of Recreation and Parks spokeswoman Alma Bell insisted Friday: "No final decision has been made. No date has been set for it to begin, no [photo identification] cameras have been purchased.

"Directors need to know who's coming into their centers and be able to keep a record of how many people use their centers," Bell said, explaining one reason photo identification cards were proposed.

However, several center directors said photo identification cards were proposed by Cheryl Jordan, assistant director of recreation, as a security measure to discourage crime.

"The idea was that if we have your picture and your name, your address, you won't be so likely to do something wrong,"

said one center director, who, like three others interviewed, did not want to be identified.

The four center directors said that they fear confrontations with people who don't want to have their pictures taken and that many families won't be able to pay even a nominal fee for cards.

"I don't want to do it because I know it would jeopardize my life," said one director, who said armed drug dealers frequent her center.

However, Melvin Vines, director of Oliver Recreation Center in East Baltimore, said he favors the identification cards and most of the participants at his center have them as a requirement for joining an athletic team. "It helps weed out kids who try to lie about their age" when signing up for sports teams, he said.

According to the memo, the cards are to cost $2 for senior citizens and children 12 and younger and $3 for teen-agers and adults. The cards would have to be replaced each fall.

The four center directors also said they objected because each center is to buy a $1,200 Polaroid camera to take pictures for cards. Money for the cameras is to come from each center's "accessory fund," which is money raised by centers to pay for items that taxpayers' money doesn't fund, such as shinguards and kneepads.

The four directors said an armed robbery at an East Baltimore center about a year ago sparked the photo identification proposal.

Since early August, two department employees have been attacked. One incident was an after-hours assault and attempted rape of a female at gunpoint at a South Baltimore recreation center Sept. 16, police said.

On Aug. 13, Vines, a 30-year department veteran, had just finished refereeing a basketball game when an unhappy ballplayer hit him in the face. The man apparently didn't like some calls Vines made during the game, he said.

Vines, who called the assault a freak event, underwent surgery to repair his face. "The kids around here respect me," he said.

Like Vines' center, most recreation centers require photo RTC identification for those who play team sports, mainly to verify age, said several center directors.

The Police Athletic League, which operates 20 programs in recreation centers, schools and other facilities for 3,500 city children ages 7 to 17, requires each program participant to have a photo identification card, said Maj. Frank Melcavage, head of the PAL program.

"We even use the cards at times as a security measure for our equipment. If somebody takes a bike helmet, they have to leave their ID card until they return the helmet," Melcavage said.

"Everybody knows what they're getting into in our program," he said. "They know they're going to be dealing with the police officers. If you don't want to abide by the law, then you don't come to our centers."

At least some city recreation centers require participants to fill out forms giving name, address and age. But center directors say information provided on such forms is often bogus.

"They'll use aliases and other people's addresses," said one director. "I wouldn't think that half that information in my files is reliable."

Directors of centers in some neighborhoods said they fear that requiring identification would lead to more confrontations with the public.

"There are people who come to my center who I know are drug dealers. Can you imagine me asking these people to let me take their picture for an ID card?" said one director.

Another director said an informal poll of people at her center garnered a negative response regarding identification cards. "Many folks don't want to have their pictures taken," she said, because they fear the cards would eventually be used by police.

Still, the four recreation center directors who requested anonymity said the two recent attacks on department employees left them shaken.

In the incident in South Baltimore, three men pushed their way into the center and held a gun and a knife on the woman until she screamed for help. Then they left, taking her purse. No arrests have been made, police said last week.

Pub Date: 9/29/96

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