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Southington steps up efforts to curb vandalism

SOUTHINGTON — Earlier this month, Pamela DePaolo, co-owner of DePaolo Furniture, 83 Center St., says she was the victim of vandalism yet again. Windows on the second floor of her building were smashed in. Last year the building was tagged with graffiti and profanities were scratched into business trucks, DePaolo said.

“It’s very expensive,” DePaolo said. “Between the two events…it’s an excess of $3,000.”

Since February, town officials have been working to spread the message about the ACT On It campaign, an anonymous tip line to stop vandalism. To continue the efforts, the town recently launched a website in conjunction with the police department for people to anonymously report crime in town.

ACT stands for Anonymous Community Tipline and a phone number was put in place for people to call. The website complements the tip line and can be accessed through the Southington Police Department’s website as another way to alert police to crime.

“We’re trying everything,” said Town Manager Garry Brumback. “Some people are comfortable calling 9-1-1, some people are comfortable with the tip line and some people are more comfortable using something on a web page.”

This month, police received 10 reports of residential vandalism, one on town-owned property, and eight to vehicles, said Sgt. Jeffrey Dobratz, police spokesman.

“It’s a little bit above average, but summer months more people are out and kids are out of school and things happen,” Dobratz said.

Since the website and tip line were established, Dobratz said the police have had people using it to report drug use, alcohol parties and a motor vehicle accident to identify a license plate.

“I think it eventually will help if people think there’s another set of eyes watching,” Dobratz said of the tip line and website. “I think that people like the anonymous fact of it. They don’t feel pressure that they’re snitching on someone or something like that. They can report the crimes.”

In January, vandals struck the community ice rink on Mill Street twice in one week. In one instance, protective panels were torn off the side and thrown into the rink while another time the liner was ripped.

That same month, six 300-pound iron and steel benches were stolen from the linear trail in the areas of Mill Street, Atwater Street, Plantsville and near the Cheshire line. The cost of the stolen benches totaled more than $6,000.

For years the town has also been dealing with graffiti on buildings along the linear trail. Because of the amount of vandalism that month and with graffiti tags on buildings and businesses through the years, the town decided to host a vandalism forum in February to address the situation and create plans to deter vandals in the future. Cameras were set up in certain areas along the linear trail, graffiti was removed along the trail, patrols increased, and the ACT On It campaign was formed.

Town Councilor Dawn Miceli, who is spearheading the campaign, is also working on other initiatives to combat vandalism.

She has also been working with Youth Services to create key chains and magnets with the tip line phone number to distribute at the schools and town events. Flyers were also created for business owners to promote the tip line and for police to hand out around town. Miceli said it’s a way to create public awareness.

“It’s not that we have any more or less than any other community, but we don’t accept that vandalism in our community… we take pride in the town of Southington and want to keep it as aesthetically pleasing as possible,” she said. “It’s just not acceptable behavior ...The biggest thing is to create awareness and that somebody cares.”

In June, the Town Council established a graffiti policy to help with the anti-vandalism effort. The policy asks businesses to remove graffiti within two days. DePaolo said while the policy means well it’s not necessarily logical for many business owners.

“I think the town is trying to get building owners to remove it quickly, but I say ‘look, we need more time,’” DePaolo said. “We have to run our businesses and put staff on them… it’s expensive.”

She said she hopes the town will look into a curfew for teenagers or a business neighborhood watch to keep an eye on neighbors and activity in town. To help business owners and landlords clear up graffiti on buildings, Miceli said she’s also working with Brumback on a graffiti removal kit campaign. Volunteers and boy scout troops would be enlisted to help businesses remove the graffiti if owners couldn’t afford to or if they didn’t have time. The idea started a few weeks ago, she said.

“If they can remove it, that’s terrific. Obviously that’s not always possible,” Miceli said. “We show them that we have a Plan B for them, another option.”

The town is trying to take every avenue to eliminate vandalism.

“We’re hoping to provide as many opportunities as we can for the community to help us identify and prosecute people who are committing vandalism (crimes),” Brumback said.

To report a crime or to access the ACT On It tip line, call (860) 276-1234 or visit the anonymous tip website through (203) 317-2212 Twitter: @FollowingFarrah

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