Wallingford police chief makes case for cameras at Doolittle Park



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WALLINGFORD — Doolittle Park would become the first town park outfitted with surveillance cameras if a plan proposed by the chief of police is enacted.

The 15.4-acre property on South Elm Street is the town’s largest, most centrally located municipal park, featuring a pavilion, basketball courts, baseball fields, tennis courts, storage shed and a playground.

Due to complaints about unruly behavior by teenagers in the park, town officials are considering installing cameras. The complaints have been made to police and in Facebook community groups.

Police Chief John Ventura and Sgt. Lou Brangi, head of the department’s community impact unit, presented information to Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. and the Town Council Tuesday night on reported incidents involving juveniles in Doolittle Park.

Ventura, who was promoted to chief July 1 and has been with the Wallingford police department for 18 years, said minimum staffing on patrol shifts and recent turnover of department leadership has led to police being more reactive rather than proactive lately.

Specifically regarding Doolittle Park, there have been 16 incidents reported to police as suspicious activity at the park so far this year, two of which resulted in formal documented case narratives.

In the same time frame, police received 29 complaints involving juveniles at Doolittle Park, which were handled by community impact unit division officers.

Of those 29 incidents, seven resulted in documented cases, including an altercation July 27 between an adult and a group of juveniles. The case is active with an arrest warrant application anticipated, Ventura said.

He said that police are dealing with many of same people over and over.

“Of the cases that I spoke about and regarding juvenile complaints, four of the more serious cases were from the same group of individuals,” he said.

He added that most of the incidents occur during the day.

“We haven’t really had any issues after hours or after dark,” he said.

Ventura discussed installing surveillance cameras in Doolittle Park, saying that he’s working with Dickinson and other town officials.

“I spoke with the mayor and he’s for the project,” Ventura said. “I’m working with Kenny Michaels from Parks and Rec, and we’ve been speaking with other municipalities to determine what program would be suitable for our needs and what the cost would be.”

Dickinson and Michaels didn’t return requests for comment Wednesday.

Ventura said the Doolittle Park surveillance cameras would have 360-degree views of the park with a video feed direct to police dispatch that can be monitored “at all times.”

In researching camera systems in other towns, he said he would need to find a program that integrates into Wallingford’s dispatch software.

He also wants to increase patrols and form a community watch group with neighborhood residents, coordinated with Brangi, to address the issues at the park to give police a better idea what areas need to be targeted and when.

Police have a formal process in place for officers to send juveniles to a diversion program through the town’s Youth and Social Services Department, headed by Amanda Miranda, a former Wallingford police youth officer.

Councilor Craig Fishbein asked what happens when Youth and Social Services doesn’t accept a referral to a diversionary program.

Ventura says it’s diversionary or criminal charges, with no real in between option.

Charges of criminal trespass could be an option, but once kids are told to leave, they generally go home but sometimes return at a later time, he said.

Fishbein, who’s also a Republican state representative, recently discussed a plan to address juvenile crime statewide at a press conference in Hartford on juvenile justice reform.

Council Chairman Vincent Cervoni said he’s seen an escalation of juveniles on bicycles downtown.

Ventura said police have observed “packs” of five to 10 kids on bicycles doing tricks and weaving in and out of traffic. After parental involvement, it’s gotten better, he said.

While Doolittle Park would be the first town park to have cameras, Center Street Cemetery has security cameras monitoring the historic resting ground.

LTakores@record-journal.com203-317-2212Twitter: @LCTakores



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