WALLINGFORD — Baseball fields. Lighted tennis courts. Two basketball courts. A playscape. Yet despite its attributes, Doolittle Park isn't as kid-friendly as it once was, according to park neighbor Michael Trocchio.
"It has become increasingly more difficult to bring kids to the park, between the drug use and horrible language," Trocchio told the Town Council on Tuesday night.
Trocchio and a handful of other neighbors to the 15.4-acre park on South Elm Street told councilors that they feared bringing children into the park because older youth make the place very unpleasant.
Town Councilor Gina Morgenstein invited the parents and Police Chief William Wright to discuss the problems with the park. Wright agreed that there are issues at Doolittle, of the nature the parents described.
"Our efforts there haven't solved the problem, particularly, but I think our efforts have minimized some of the issues there," Wright said.
But Wright has a potential solution. His department's newly forming Community Impact Unit will work with the town's Youth and Social Services Department director, Amanda Miranda, to see if it can encourage better behavior, he said.
The unit's work will include iwalk-and-talk meetings with business owners, clergy and residents to address blight, unregistered cars on public and private property, noise complaints, narcotics, parking enforcement, thefts from vehicles and other quality of life issues.
The unit's overall goal, Wright said, will be to have an immediate impact. The department's brass had been considering creating the unit for several months to address problems that the Patrol Division was too busy to address continually, he said.
Not every problem will be solved by police. Family strife and mental health issues are the root of some of the problems, Miranda said.
Police handling of the problems at Doolittle has been erratic, according to neighbors. Police often park their cars in Doolitte's parking lot, which helps, but most of the worst behavior occurs elsewhere in the park.
Part of the problem, Wright said, has been the loss of some state social-service agencies that would normally handle youth issues.
The department's Community Police Unit checks the park, but those officers are often patrolling town schools. Community impact officers will fill the gaps between the work done by patrol and specialty-unit officers, Wright said.
Wright, who announced his intention to form the unit on Nov. 9, is looking to fill two positions to bring the department up to full strength, which includes 75 sworn officers. Several officers have expressed interest in joining the new group, which will consist of a sergeant and three officers, Wright said.