CASPER, Wyo. — Catherine Johnson Morris, the teacher who has been building sandcastles around the community this summer, attended the Casper City Council meeting on Tuesday, September 7 to talk about vandalism of some of her castles in downtown Casper this summer.
Morris told the council that she moved to Casper in 1990 and has enjoyed watching the downtown scene blossom in her time here.
However, she said that the vandalism of her sandcastles as well as the energy of large groups of teenagers in the downtown area this summer made her begin to feel like Casper is not safe.
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Morris said that while she had heard about reports of violence among teenagers on Thursday nights in downtown Casper, she first got a first-person sense of this in early July when she was constructing a sandcastle at Wyo Central Federal Credit Union.
She said that as the evening of Thursday, July 1 progressed, groups of 15-20 teenagers were cruising back and forth on foot through David Street Station.
“Their language was course and their energy was very unsettling,” Morris said.
She said that a downpour of rain that evening cleared most people from the area, but she stayed until 11 p.m. until the castle was complete.
Morris said that in August she was again downtown to build a sandcastle in the landscaping at David Street Station. She said the experience that night made the severity of the problem the station reported in regard to rowdy teenagers apparent.
“If you have never seen this crowd in person, you may still not understand,” Morris said. “If you have not heard the obscenities echo off the brick walls or the reckless, carefree energy that they radiate, you still may be thinking that this is kids being kids.”
“When the words fell into the rhythm of chanting and the energy spilled over into vandal attempts to destroy property of the station, my paradigm shifted and an alarming concern grew. Casper no longer felt safe.”
Morris said she started to feel like she was in a place where she didn’t belong and packed up her things and went home, leaving a castle incomplete for the first time.
She added that someone proceeded to smash the work she had done on the sand castle not only at David Street Station but also at the Wyo Central Federal Credit Union.
Morris said that she thinks more needs to be done to ensure the security of the state.
“David Street Station can and should be a gathering place for families and a meeting place for friends,” she said. “We need to take back the security of the station, but how?”
First, she suggested that David Street Station ensure they have cameras covering every angle. David Street Station does have a number of security cameras, though the Downtown Development Authority Board of Directors has discussed the possibility of adding more or upgrading the existing ones to offer better resolutions or capabilities.
Morris also suggested the city help David Street Station purchase a drone and get someone trained to fly it for security purposes. She said an alternative would be to task the Casper Police Department with making a drone and drone pilot available at the station on busy nights.
She said that the drone could be used to record and follow people around who appear to be causing trouble, suggesting that the drone also be equipped with the ability to broadcast the following message: “Attention. This area is under surveillance and this area is being recorded as potential evidence in future investigations. Please stand by.”
Morris said the drone making such an announcement would tend to make people look up, which would have the added advantage of making their faces more easily recognizable in footage captured by the drone.
She said that the drone might cause people to flee, but that the drone could follow them around and continue surveillance.
Morris said she thought such drone footage could make teenagers understand that their behavior and identity may be made aware to police, judges or the teenagers’ own parents.
Council member Kyle Gamroth told Morris he appreciates the time and effort she has put into building sandcastles. He noted that he serves as a liaison on the DDA Board and that the DDA is thinking about how to improve security, but that it has limited staff and resources.
He added that some community organizations have been organizing “Teen Social” nights on Thursday nights at David Street Station with a goal of helping give teens something fun and safe to do rather than engage in dangerous activities.
Council member Bruce Knell told Morris that he has been impressed by her sandcastle work.
“Your sandcastles aren’t just cool, you’ve created quite a buzz in town with those,” Knell said. “They are pretty incredible.”
Morris said she has been enjoying making the sandcastles.