NAUGATUCK — An ongoing spate of vandalism throughout the borough has spurred the Parks and Recreation Commission to from a subcommittee to face the issue head-on.
“When public property gets defaced, it’s annoying to the community,” said Deputy Police Chief Joshua Bernegger, who is on the subcommittee.
Bernegger said that rates of vandalism have remained steady over the years, but one recent incident struck a nerve that prompted the committee to form.
A few weeks ago, someone pulled up all the just-planted mums at an adopt-a-spot area in Linden Park, he said.
“Here we are trying to beautify and stop blight and then when we do something to make it look attractive, it’s spoiled again,” said Linda Ramos, co-chair of the Blight and Beautification Council, which oversees the adopt-a-spot program.
Marsha Puc, who had adopted the spot, had already invested $120 in the project, Ramos said. She has stopped planting the area, at least for the time being, Ramos said.
Parks and Recreation Director Pat Wagner said he hopes the subcommittee, which was formed in October will have its first meeting within a month to brainstorm ideas to address the issue for the long-term.
“Even if we can cut vandalism by a third, it would be a goal. …You’re never going to stop it all. If we could get a reduction, it would be nice,” he said.
The adopt-a-spot is not alone when it comes to vandalism in the borough.
The gazebo on the Town Green has been hit three times in the past year, according to Bernegger. Vandals often kick out the railing spindles, he said.
Last month, the gazebo sustained $1,000 to $1,500 worth of damage after a truck or SUV slammed into it.
Two weekends ago, vandals pushed a port-a-potty into Baummer’s Pond, forcing the popular fishing area to close for a week, according to Public Works Superintendent Robert Roland.
Members of the Public Works Department retrieved the potty with a back hoe and moved it back to the parking lot, Roland said. He said vandals routinely tip over port-a-potties, but he’s never seen them thrown into the pond before.
Vandals have also repeatedly slit the vinyl cover on the salt tent at the top of the Heights property behind the police department, according to Bernegger.
At Fairchild Park, someone broke through the fence and drove over the fields in an incident that was never reported to the police. Another vehicle drove across the lawn at Andrew Avenue School, according to Bernegger.
Besides damage to structures and fields, there has been a steady stream of graffiti at public places around town, according to Wagner.
“They like to write their four-letter words on it,” Wagner said.
He said other graffiti includes graphic pictures and swastikas.
“These are random examples of vandalism to public property,” Bernegger said.
In a lot of cases, the police aren’t even called, Bernegger said.
“Many of the lesser incidents simply don’t get reported to the police and the property owner or the town just takes care of it,” Bernegger said.
Bernegger said that in most cases, the vandals are never caught.
“Occasionally we do, and those are lucky breaks,” Bernegger said.
When they are caught, it’s usually a matter of police being in the right place at the right time, he said.
In one such incident in May, police charged a pair of Naugatuck boys with vandalizing the Union City Little League complex. The 12 and 13-year-old boys damaged a fence and baseball equipment was thrown around the field and parking lot.
The committee hopes to explore creative ways to bring these incidents to light and try to reduce the occurrences, Bernegger said.
The subcommittee will discuss putting surveillance cameras in areas of frequent incidents.
Wagner said the town might invest in a portable security system that we can move around and record different areas.
As the subcommittee prepares to face the issue, Bernegger said police enforcement alone will not solve the problem.
“What we need is to partner with the community to really focus on this problem,” Bernegger said.
He said Naugatuck residents need to care about their public spaces and call the police when an incident occurs.
Committee members assume most of the vandalism is perpetrated by teenagers with little supervision at home.
Wagner said most incidents occur late at night in areas that are usually empty at that time.
“I’ve got to think that it’s the older kids, the teenage kids that have nothing else to do but damage and vandalize things,” Wagner said. “If I ever got caught doing something like that, my father would have hung me,” Wagner said.
Ramos said she didn’t know why people would destroy public property, but speculated that it could be to impress peers, because they were bored, or just like destroying things.
“These are very difficult issues to deal with because it really comes down to the values of the individuals that are committing the crimes,” Bernegger said.
If someone witnesses an act of vandalism, they should call the police, Wagner said. Police can’t be everywhere all the time, but if they get a call, they will respond, he said.
“Not saying anything doesn’t help solve what’s going on. Those patrols and cameras aren’t going to catch them all the time,” Ramos said.
If the community is aware of the problem, maybe they can help, she said.
“Hopefully, we’re going to try to catch some of these people,” Ramos said.