WESTFIELD, NJ — Bright lights to identify trespassers, increased police patrols and the possible installation of fencing to keep people out of Mindowaskin Park during its evening closures are among a slate of security measures being implemented in response to large nighttime gatherings of unruly teenagers in the recreational area, authorities said.
In recent weeks, groups of teenagers estimated to have reached 100 at times have gathered on and around the park’s playground, where they have damaged and vandalized equipment, Mayor Shelley Brindle and Police Chief Christopher Battiloro said in a joint statement Monday.
“We have woken up to find trash strewn all over the playground, equipment broken and vandalized, signs missing and residents reporting rocks thrown at their cars,” the statement said. “Last week, the police also arrested two young adults in the park in the early evening hours for charges relating to controlled dangerous substance use.”
Battiloro said the women, ages 19 and 20, were both charged with possession of a false government issued identification, and one was charged with possession of under 50 grams of marijuana.
An officer from the department’s juvenile bureau has broken up crowds of teens gathered in Mindowaskin Park, in spite of at times being taunted with chants of “We won’t go,” authorities said. The teens also have been not wearing masks and failed to practice social distancing, authorities said.
Brindle and Battiloro said that as parents of high school students, they recognize teenagers’ need to socialize during the pandemic, but the behavior at Mindowaskin Park has been unacceptable.
“We empathize with how important it is for their mental health to engage with their peers,” their statement said. “But this behavior is unacceptable. It is jeopardizing public safety, community health, public property and the quality of life for nearby residents.”
The night-time lighting for the park, Battiloro said, will consist of two 30-foot light towers each with 500-watt bulbs on them. Police will be running the lights beginning Monday and until further notice, he said.
Debby Burslem, president of the Friends of Mindowaskin Park, said she had been inundated with resident calls of concern in recent weeks.
“I have had multiple emails and phone call at all hours of the day and night … from residents who are concerned about their safety and their property values, including one phone call this past weekend where a resident had rocks thrown at her,” Burslem said.
Brindle and Battiloro also announced the following measures:
- The town may install a fence with a locked gate to enhance security and more easily issue citations for trespassing violations.
- The town will add new signage at the playground, reminding the public that its use is for children under the age of 14.
- Police will require masks be worn at the playground (except for children under age 2) and officers will ask those not wearing masks to leave.
“Standard patrolling is not having an impact on the behavior at hand, and we have a responsibility to the community to address the numerous complaints that are increasing by the day,” the officials said.
Residents near the park who observe trespassing after dark or any other unacceptable activity should call the police department at 908-789-4000.
Email Matt Kadosh at firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter: @MattKadosh
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