EXTRA EYES, PATROLS SET FOR RED BANK

rgp-trash13A bench at Riverside Gardens Park, where vandalism and littering have been growing problems. Debris in the pole-vault box at Count Basie Fields, below. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

basie-litter1In response to a surge in vandalism on borough property this summer, Red Bank officials are looking into video surveillance as a way to fill gaps in already heightened police presence and serve as a deterrent to would-be scofflaws.

Video could be just one part of a multiprong effort by the borough to curb public defacement and all-around mistreatment of public property, police Captain Darren McConnell said.

Police have stepped up their presence at Riverside Gardens Park in recent weeks, he said. They’re also cracking down on curfew laws for teenagers. And because the council earlier this week called out littering at Count Basie Fields as a growing issue, cops will make rounds there more often.

“The regular patrols will be stepped up quite a bit,” McConnell said. “It’s really only Riverside Gardens Park and Count Basie Fields that are having the issues, and they’re not even the same groups hanging out there, but they get the most use.”

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A sampling of litter and defacement in Red Bank, clockwise from left: a vodka bottle at Riverside Gardens Park; a water bottle on Count Basie Fields’ artificial turf field; graffiti on the boardwalk at Riverside Gardens; more trash at Riverside Gardens. (Photos by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

At Count Basie Fields, where nearly $1 million was poured in for turf and other upgrades, there are “serious issues,” Councilman Ed Zipprich said.

There’s trash littering the area, visitors have been using the long-jump landing pit as a sandbox, and there’s been a general disregard for the posted rules, he said. McConnell also said a utility box at the north gate of the park has graffiti on it.

On Wednesday, borough officials said they are going to do what it can to protect what they call one of Red Bank’s prized public areas: increase patrols by police and extra rounds by borough employees.

“We want to be vigilant here and protect our very important asset and investment there,” Zipprich said.

A walk around the park Thursday morning showed a fairly high level of cleanliness, but trash lined small sections around the running track, bottles and caps were scattered around the turf football field and, in the pole vault section, a dirty sock lay baking in the sun.

Since opening the newly turfed fields to the public, some measures taken to protect the multi-field park haven’t been embraced by the public.

Council members caught flak from West Side residents who said the practice of locking the park’s gates after dark unfairly shut them out after years of routine visits early in the morning or after work. At that time, officials pointed out cigarette butts and beer cans as common items found on park grounds.

In recent months, the borough’s dealt with more than just litterbugs in public places.

At Riverside Gardens Park, police have reported more than one incident of vandalism, and park benches and the boardwalk overlooking the Navesink River are tagged with graffiti.

The spray-paint acts have been on the upswing since the warm weather arrived, McConnell said. Police have made at least one arrest for vandalism to a business, back in June. Earlier this month, a jewelry business’s video surveillance caught two teens tagging its back wall.

In the past, the police department’s had the luxury of hiring special officers for extra help in the summer to create a stronger law presence to repel vandals. Budget cuts have taken that off the table.

Now the department is reassigning officers to pay extra attention to “high incident areas.” That’s in addition to posting big maroon-and-white signs stating public park rules at Count Basie and Riverside Gardens, McConnell said, “to try and give that visible presence.”

Police and borough officials have been in discussions to bring video surveillance to those high incident areas — Eastside and Marine parks have not seen the problems others have — so police can monitor the areas from the police station, McConnell said.

Further details on that idea are still being worked out, he said.