Bakersfield police Officer David Nelson was described as someone who would take time out of his patrols to play sports with neighborhood kids on the street.
Although he died in the line of duty in 2015, his memory will live on at the David Nelson Pocket Park, which officially opened Friday.
“(The park) is just something that epitomizes what David would have wanted,” said David’s father, Larry Nelson, at the park’s ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday morning. “I can’t say enough positive comments about what this community has done.”
The park, located on a triangular piece of land between Niles and Monterey streets, consists of a large lawn and shaded verandas, with a large mural at one end.
Bakersfield City Councilman Andrae Gonzales, who was instrumental in the park’s construction, said he initially envisioned the park would have playgrounds and other structures, but community members told him they just wanted an open space for their children to run around.
“It’s supposed to be a space for community and families and children to come together in a positive way,” he said. “God knows there are so many negative influences trying to get at our young people every single day.”
The park was developed over two years through efforts by the Children First Campaign, a nonprofit started by Gonzales, as well as a group of mothers from Williams Elementary School known as the Pan Dulce Club.
“Four years ago, we started a big dream, but do you know what? It came true,” said Pan Dulce member Juanita Contreras.
The Alfred and Virginia Harrell Foundation, formerly known as The Bakersfield Californian Foundation, provided a $100,000 grant for the park, and the community raised $50,000 in matching funds.
The Williams Neighborhood Team elected to name the park after Nelson, who patrolled the east-side neighborhood frequently.
Nelson died at the age of 26, during a high-speed pursuit after a vehicle he pulled over at Flower and Haley streets in east Bakersfield sped off.
He crashed into a brick wall at the northwest corner of Panorama Drive and Alfred Harrell Highway, becoming the first BPD officer to die in the line of duty since 1983.
“The community of Bakersfield has been so overwhelming in its support and care,” said Erik Nelson, David’s brother. “I really understand from a deep sense, the love David had for this neighborhood that he patrolled.”
The East Bakersfield High School Band performed at the ceremony.
Following remarks from those involved in the creation of the park, the Williams School Student Council led the ribbon-cutting with childproof scissors.