Columbus police officers are upping the ante when it comes to illegal sex acts in public parks.
10TV went undercover with police as they made arrests.
One after another, a 10TV News crew observed cars pull into the parking lot at Helsel Park. While some drivers waited, others headed straight for the woods.
Detectives say that during the lunch hour, it’s a routine that happens like clockwork.
“It seems to be a revolving door, just constantly happening,” said Det. Stevens of the Columbus Police Vice Squad.
Stevens works undercover all over Columbus, trying to catch people performing illegal sexual acts in city parks.
The acts include public indecency, whether it’s exposing themselves to others or having sex along public walking trails.
“We consider it just sexually deviant behavior, and it has nothing to do with man, woman or what they prefer,” Stevens said. “I think it’s just a rush to see if they can get away with it out here in the public.”
Stevens allowed 10TV to go along because he said he wanted the public to be aware.
It wasn’t long before Stevens had an encounter.
He said that a 49-year-old man repeatedly exposed himself to him in the car, and then he gestured Stevens to the wood.
The 49-year-old man was arrested for public indecency and was taken to jail.
About an hour later, Stevens said he met another man looking for sex.
In that case, Stevens said the 69-year-old man, who already had a public indecency charge on his record, stood very close to the edge of the woods when he exposed himself – just feet from a family.
“There’s kids around, kids in the car, there’s people down here eating lunch, and women walking their dogs,” Stevens said. “There’s people that you can see, people walking around the paths.”
Amber Swiger, a mother, said it’s scary to hear what is going on.
“It’s scary as a mom, having (my child) running around, because he’s very active and he likes adventure, so I never know what’s in the woods,” Swiger said.
The Columbus Recreation and Parks Department told 10TV News that the city is much of a victim as the public.
“We will continue to enforce codes and laws, but there’s no easy answer to change this type of behavior. We are always looking at how to address the problem,” city officials said in a statement.
Laura Baker-Morrish, the city’s chief prosecutor, said that there has been no violence associated with the incidents at the parks.
“In none of these cases have we had an instance where there has been any violence, where there has been anyone approaching children or anything along those lines,” Baker-Morrish said. “But by the same token, this is something that we don’t want to encourage in our parks.”
It is behavior city leaders and law enforcement officers say they will continue to prosecute and try to prevent.
“We’re here, and we’re going to stay here,” Det. Stevens said. “We’re going to continue to do our job. The law is the law. You will be arrested. As police officers, we can only do our job and the rest is up to the courts.”
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