WALLINGFORD, Conn. — Four Wallingford minors have been arrested and charged in connection to the fire that damaged the Doolittle Park playscape in October of last year, police announced on Tuesday.
The four teen boys were charged with Criminal Mischief and Conspiracy to Commit Criminal Mischief. They're ranging in age from 15 to 16 years old.
Police said the playscape at Doolittle Park was set on fire on Oct. 29. Emergency crews responded just after 11 p.m. to see the piece of equipment fully engulfed in flames.
Firefighters extinguished the fire at the playscape, as well as smaller fires that were started on the basketball court and a nearby porta-potty, police said.
The cost to repair the playscape will be around $69,000. The Wallingford Town Council will consider approving a bid waiver for the playground replacement on Tuesday night. The cost of a new playground would be covered by town recovery insurance and a donation from Choate Rosemary Hall, according to the town council's meeting agenda.
The Wallingford police chief said that crime involving teens and minors has gone up by 165% from this time last year.
"Complaints of theft, inappropriate behaviors, trespassing, vaping, and bicycles being used in a menacing manner both on and off the roadway are just a few of the complaints that have been received by this agency," Chief John Ventura said in a statement.
A lot of those behaviors have been on full display at local businesses on N Main St. in Wallingford.
"We're finding ways to hold these juveniles accountable in a responsible way that's understood by them, to hopefully curb their repeating the same issue," said Sgt. Stephen Jaques, Public Information Officer for the Wallingford Police Department.
Sgt. Jaques said it's a lot of the same teens that are repeat offenders, and police are doing what they can when they respond to the complaints from local businesses.
"A lot of the time, the juveniles learn over a period of time. And they also recognize that the punishments aren't all too harsh. So, a combination between those two things, when the punishment isn't too harsh and they know the process, oftentimes it leads to disrespecting our officers when we're there to do a lawful function," Sgt. Jaques said.
Sgt. Jaques said there are a lot of hurdles that come with arresting a juvenile, and many times, they are sent back home to their parents a few hours later. And right now, he said they're dealing with many of the same kids.
The police are working with the town to bolster up their Wallingford Juvenile Diversion Program in partnership with Youth and Social Services. It mirrors the Juvenile Review Board, in hopes of addressing nuisance issues where both the parent and child need to be present.
Lastly, they're working on coming up with a new bicycle ordinance to allow officers to enforce another problem they've been dealing with for years.
Sgt. Jaques said this is in response to teens riding around town on their bikes, disrupting traffic and almost causing accidents.
"I've seen this myself before. We'll have a juvenile just pull out right in front of my cruiser, and then obviously I have to stop, interact with the juvenile, identify them, explain why it's dangerous and then move on from there," Sgt. Jaques said.
Local businesses in the area are grateful for the efforts being made by the town and police to cut down on the problem. That includes the owner of Mr. D's, Heather Williams.
"We're a wonderful community, we really are. And we don't want to admit that we have anything going on. But we do have a little bit of stuff going on with just some teenagers kind of causing a lot of trouble throughout town," Williams said.
Williams said the issues of teens being disrupted around other customers have started to die down, but the thefts have remained.
"The theft has been a bit of an issue. But, as I said the police, they're right across the street from us and they've been very tentative and very quick to jump on and help us out along the way," Williams said.
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