The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)

Wallingfor­d juveniles charged in fire at Doolittle Park playground

- By Liz Hardaway Liz Hardaway may be reached at

WALLINGFOR­D — Police say they have charged four juveniles with setting fire to the Doolittle Park playground last year that will cost almost $70,000 to repair,.

Police were called to the South Elm Street park around 11:10 p.m. on Oct. 29, 2022, for the suspicious blaze and found the playscape fully engulfed in flames. Wallingfor­d Police Sgt. Stephen Jaques noted that small fires had been started on a basketball court and in a nearby portable bathroom as well.

The Wallingfor­d fire marshal determined the blazes were intentiona­lly set, according to Jaques.

The police department and fire marshal’s office conducted an investigat­ion that resulted in the four arrests. The juveniles, who were all town residents, were each charged with first-degree criminal mischief and conspiracy to commit first-degree criminal mischief. They were assigned court dates for this month at state Superior Court of Juvenile Matters in New

Haven, Jaques said.

Jaques said the total cost to repair the playground would be about $69,000.

Police Chief John Ventura said the town also plans to install a surveillan­ce system in the park.

“We are confident that the company that is awarded the bid will provide the system we need to ensure the safety of our community while protecting town property,” Ventura said in a statement.

Ventura said issues with juvenile behavior in the town have increased by 165 percent from this time last year.

Police have been speaking to merchants in the Center Street and Simpson Court areas, as well as the Wallingfor­d Public Library, “who have been inundated with juveniles who are causing issues for their establishm­ents.” Some of the issues include theft, inappropri­ate behavior, trespassin­g, vaping and “bicycles being used in a menacing manner both on and off the roadway,” according to Ventura.

The police department has increased enforcemen­t in these areas and officers have been met with “resistance by the juveniles we have been dealing with who continuall­y disrespect the officers assigned to address the issues,” Ventura noted.

Police are seeking to implement initiative­s to address these behaviors, including a bicycle ordinance and the Wallingfor­d Juvenile Diversion Program.

“I understand the frustratio­n of our business community and the citizens of this town,” Ventura said. “The Wallingfor­d Police Department is committed to addressing these juvenile issues and will do everything we can to curb the behaviors that have been plaguing the hardworkin­g business owners who have already been through so much over the last three years.”

 ?? K.P. Perkins/contribute­d ?? This is the part of the playscape at Doolittle Park in Wallingfor­d that police say was set on fire over the weekend.
K.P. Perkins/contribute­d This is the part of the playscape at Doolittle Park in Wallingfor­d that police say was set on fire over the weekend.

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