After setbacks, Wallingford moving ahead with Doolittle Park cameras

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WALLINGFORD — Police are investigating a fight between juveniles and a coach in Doolittle Park earlier this week. 

The incident occurred Monday at around 3:38 p.m., according to Wallingford police spokesman Sgt. Stephen Jaques. He released few other details citing the ongoing investigating.

“All the parties went their separate ways,” Jaques said. “Obviously we were called, (officers) responded. We talked to the parties involved and we’re conducting an active investigation into what happened and more will follow.” 

It’s the latest report of trouble in the park involving juveniles. According to the police department’s records division, there have been 27 calls since Jan. 1, regarding unruly juvenile activity at Doolittle Park.

For people who live near the 15.4- acre park on South Elm Street, some of what is going on at the park involving youths is scary. The area surrounding Doolittle Park is mostly residential, with a mixture of single and multi-family houses and apartments. 

The park includes basketball courts, baseball fields, tennis courts, a storage shed, a pavilion and a playground. 

In response to the number of calls regarding unruly behavior in the park, Wallingford’s police chief proposed installing surveillance cameras last year. The project has been postponed, however, due to an issue with electrical power supply, the ability to have the cameras cover the entire park and to be able to send those images to the police department.

“We worked with the Wallingford Electric Division and they came in and they put additional power resources into the park solely for the application of the cameras,” said Police Chief John Ventura. “They have just finished completing that work.”

Ventura said police are now working with the Parks and Recreation Department to rebid the project with the intention of having the cameras installed by the end of next month. The Record-Journal reported in August that the cameras will have a 360-degree view of the park. 

“The realization of what needs to happen with the cameras is that the images need to come into the police department, so that is what the partnership is for,” Ventura said. “For us to be able to monitor the cameras and identify anything that is going on and for them to be able to take care of their parks adequately.” 

Safety at the park

According to the police department’s records division, there have been 27 calls regarding unruly juvenile activity at Doolittle Park since Jan. 1, the most recent being Monday’s alleged incident involving juveniles and a coach.

One of the park’s neighbors, who spoke on condition of anonymity citing safety concerns, said the situation with juveniles started getting worse about two to three years ago.

“Families stopped coming because they couldn’t go to the park with their kids,” the neighbor said. “... It’s scary, it’s scary what is going on.”

The neighbor has seen kids vandalizing property with graffiti, fighting and bullying others. Bullying and harassment are the worst issues.

“Picking on a couple people or one person,” the neighbor said. “People can’t even walk down the road … If (a person) is walking on the street, (the juveniles) bother them.” 

Over the bridge on Henry Street, litter and loitering are more of an issue.

“They litter a lot, that’s all I see,” said resident Mark Catala. “They hang out on the bridge … They leave all their crap all around. Other than that, I don’t have a problem with anybody.” 

Mark Catala lives across Henry Street from his brother Jim Catala. Some of the teenagers walk or ride bikes along Henry Street to get to Doolittle Park, the brothers said.

While Mark and Jim Catala said they are not bothered by the kids’ behavior, they don’t live on the side of the park that houses the basketball courts and playground, so they don’t see what is going on the other side of the park. Mark Catala calls their side the “dead side of the park” since there are no longer swings or skating areas anymore.

“It’s not really used,” Mark Catala said. 

The brothers noticed that the groups of teenagers cycle through over the years. Once they graduate high school, they are gone and then a new group comes to hang around the park. They typically arrive at the bridge area at about 3 p.m. or 4 p.m. and hang out for about a half hour to 45 minutes.

Jim Catala said he is only bothered by the kids when they swear when he is walking to the park with his grandchildren.

“They love to swear,” Jim Catala said. “... I don’t care about me, but when I am walking my grandkids...” 

Will the cameras help?

Ventura said having images of what is happening at Doolittle Park will be helpful to prevent crimes from occurring. 

“It also serves as a preventative measure for anyone that may think that they want to do any vandalism to the park or to the playscapes or any areas inside of it,” Ventura said. “Knowing that the area is being surveilled or captured on video may serve as a deterrant to someone who might be wishing to do some harm to the park.” 

Vincent Cervoni, chairman of the Wallingford Town Council, said the cameras can help record what actually happens, which will support the police department when it comes to investigating.

“When these incidents are reported, there’s always a ‘he said, she said’...situation that needs to be resolved,” Cervoni said. “Recording the incident could minimize the confusion resulting from people’s memories.” 

Ways to combat the issue

When an incident occurs at Doolittle Park, Ventura said park-goers should not take matters into their own hands.

“Please contact the police department immediately so we can get an officer down to the area and address it and not put anyone in danger,” Ventura said. 

The neighbor who spoke on condition of anonymity said parent involvement can help minimize the issues 

“I believe parenting is so important in everything,” the neighbor said.

Town Councilor Vincent Testa has pitched building a skate park to help give teenagers another thing to do in the community instead of just hanging around a park. Testa mentioned this idea at a Town Council meeting in June. 

“That’s one of the reasons why I proposed putting in a skate park,” Testa said. “If there’s more opportunities for kids to go have outdoor activities like that, they’ll be less inclined to congregate in parks when they have nothing better to do.” 

While there have been issues in the past with juveniles, Ventura said the park is always available for recreational use. 

“Overall the park is safe and kids can use it,” Ventura said. “The softball teams and a lot of other teams do utilize the park.”

jsimms@record-journal.com203-317-2279Twitter: @jessica_simms99


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