Correction and update: The following article contains new information not included in a previous story.
In the past few weeks, kids skateboarding at the Island Park Playground have been stopped by police and told they couldn’t skateboard at the playground anymore or on the street.
Parents have questioned why and when this ban on skateboarding took effect.
At this point in time, there are no ordinances prohibiting skateboarding anywhere in Portsmouth. That may change, however.
Police Chief Lance Hebert said there had been a sign posted forbidding skateboarding at the playground, but that it had been removed and needed to be replaced.
A new sign was posted on March 9 at the playground by the Department of Public Works stating “No Skateboarding,” according to Hebert.
“There have been complaints with using the unauthorized equipment and it being left there on the basketball courts," Hebert said. "I have my officers telling the kids not to skateboard. A picnic table was damaged. They were bringing unauthorized equipment in. They had a 4’ by 8’ piece of wood to use as a ramp."
The "unauthorized equipment" is wood, locks, bricks and other debris being brought to the park and left there. "Even lately, we've had bicyclists jumping ramps on the basketball courts," he said.
Hebert wants to get a clarification of not only the ordinance, but the sign as well.
“I’m going to meet with the Town Administrator, Bob Driscoll, this week and we are going to bring this to the Town Council," he said. "We need to properly enforce the use of skateboarding. I want the Town Council to give a defined ruling on the clarification on signage or usage."
Lori Rinkel agrees with Hebert on the kids not using homemade ramps, but that’s about all.
“Yes, someone called the town’s insurance company a while back and yes, it’s understood there shouldn’t be anything like that down there," she said. "But, what’s wrong with the kids practicing their flat ground tricks? It’s a safe place for them. I’m happy knowing that my boys are in the playground practicing their favorite sport after school, rather than skating in the streets of our neighborhood."
“As far as a sign telling the kids 'no skateboarding,' I don’t believe there was ever one. And if there had been one, wouldn’t that have been an issue when we were trying to put in a skate park?” asked Rinkel.
The skate park Rinkel was referring to was an effort that had been started in October 2008. Money was collected, grants were written and the plan was approved by the Portsmouth Town Council in February 2009.
She was a member of the Island Park Crime Watch Committee at the time. The committee had been involved with building the Island Park Playground so it was a natural link to set about building a small beginner’s skateboard park.
In the end however, the Town Council withdrew its support after a small faction in the Crime Watch Committee changed their minds about building the skate park.
Trish Lovett is a mother whose son had been stopped. His phone number, name and address were recorded by police, she said.
Her son had been told there was no skateboarding at the Island Park Playground on March 8. She too questioned how long the sign had been posted.
“I spoke to Chief Hebert on March 9 and I asked why my son's name was taken down when my son didn't even know he couldn't skate there anymore," Lovett said. "The chief said that the kids knew they couldn't skate there anymore because there has been a sign posted for two years. I questioned the sign and I told him that I live one street over. I frequent the park often and I told him I’ve never seen a 'no skateboarding sign.' He said again, it has been there for two years.
“He said the skateboarders are making a mess and vandalizing the area. I couldn't believe the things he was saying. I told him my son was a good kid. He doesn't drink, smoke pot or fight. I said the only thing he does is skate and you want to take that from him. I told him I could take my son and ten of his skateboarding friends from Island Park and bring them to the station and they would not know one of them because these are all good kids."
By state law, children are not allowed to skate in the road, according to the chief.
"I've seen kids skateboarding down Park Avenue myself," Hebert said. "We're trying to keep kids safe. We're trying to keep them off the roads. There is a law we feel covers it."
The law Chief Hebert is referring to can be found in Rhode Island General Laws Title 31-19-19, which states, "Use of coasters, roller skates, and similar devices restricted. – No person upon roller skates, or riding in or by means of any coaster, toy vehicle, or similar device, shall go upon any roadway except while crossing a street on a crosswalk, and when so crossing, the person shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to pedestrians. This section shall not apply upon any street while set aside as a play street by a duly authorized police authority."
The "similar devices" here refers to skateboards, according to Hebert.
"We want to make sure these kids are safe and not skateboarding in the road," he said. "We've tried to work with the kids. We're asking for parents to work with us to promote safety."
Correction: A previous version of this article referenced the wrong law pertaining to skateboarding in roadways.