ANCHORAGE -

The Anchorage Police Department and UAA’s Justice Center is teaming together to come up with a new tool to turn around a local park’s increasingly negative reputation: fun activities.

For the past three weeks, students with the Justice Center have been conducting a social experiment in Town Square Park. The purpose of the study is to identify new methods in pushing out illegal activity by bringing in wholesome activities to the area.

“We’ve been putting lots of officers in there, using enforcement as a tool,” said APD Chief Mark Mew. “But there may be a better way of doing that.”

For a full week, local businesses and the Downtown Partnership hosted fun events during the day, events like Zumba classes and live music performances. During that time, UAA students took notes on everyone passing through the park between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., watching the constant flow of activity in the park from the windows of the Performing Arts Center. Dense tree coverage required some of the work to be done on the ground.

“We’re looking for obvious signs of drug use,” Mew said. “We’re looking for obvious signs of alcohol drinking. We’ve definitely seen some drug use in the park, but mostly marijuana.”

The study started the week before the planned activities, allowing a week on either side for observation of normal park activity. As the study winds up, they are looking to see if there’s been any sort of change.

“Just from looking and counting the number of people in the park, there’s definitely more people in the park last week compared to this week,” said Assistant Professor Troy Payne with the UAA Justice Center.

Depending on the results of the study, law enforcement could have a new tactic for fighting crime in the park.

“Maybe we can change the landscape down there, and not have the cops babysitting it,” Mew said. “Which is an expensive way of doing it. Not trying to arrest our way out of the problem, but see if we can still turn the corner using a different approach.”

An approach that could curb crime and helpt take back on the Anchorage’s beautiful downtown parks.

The Justice Center says this is a very simple experiment, and doesn’t factor in things like crime at different times of the day or year.