Update on the Mindowaskin Park situation

Caroline Collins and Will McGlynn

Photo of Mindowaskin Park (Photo by Jessica Isser)

In recent weeks, there have been multiple reports of teenagers gathering in large groups and acting inappropriately at Mindowaskin Park. This has sparked concern within the community, as these teens haven’t been socially distancing or wearing masks and have reportedly been damaging playground equipment.

Westfield Police Chief Christopher Battiloro said in an interview with Hi’s Eye that teenagers in the park have been using offensive language, throwing rocks at cars and disobeying the orders of officers assigned to patrol. “Unfortunately, the park has attracted teenagers in large numbers, especially during hours of darkness. We’ve been trying to send them on their way, but we’ve met some resistance and belligerence,” said Battiloro. 

One Westfield resident explained how teens hanging out at the park leave their bikes in the road and have been very loud, especially at night when the park is supposed to be closed. The anonymous resident said,“This is a residential area; there are houses located in the park and adjacent to the park. These teens have had little regard for the residents in the area.”

Additionally, there has been increased car traffic around the park and on side streets leading to the park entrance. People who frequent the park have taken to parking their cars on the street, blocking residential driveways and ignoring No Parking signs.

According to Battiloro, the local government spent close to one million dollars on the new playground in the park. Teens have been leaving trash on the playground and breaking the new equipment.

As a temporary solution, measures such as installing spotlights, regular police patrols and an enforced mask mandate have been taken to deter people from gathering in large numbers at the park. Mayor Shelley Brindle said, “police are prepared to take any teen who defies the rules into juvenile custody for their parents to pick them up.”

Residents have generally been pleased with how the situation has been handled. One resident said, “The police and the mayor have been fantastic and very responsive in light of the situation.” 

As the winter months approach, it’s expected that more teenagers will stay inside rather than hanging out at the park, allowing the park issue to resolve itself.

Despite this, the town continues its search for permanent solutions to deter this behavior, such as finding ways to engage teens during this challenging time. Battiloro acknowledged that park surveillance hasn’t been entirely effective. “So far we have only been able to displace the problem. Now we are getting reports of teenagers damaging property in town and going on rooftops,” said Battiloro.

He believes the solution will come from furthering engagement with youth and increasing opportunities for kids to socialize while safely social distancing. Under normal circumstances, the police department would allow kids to gather in the teen center in the basement of the police department. Even though this is no longer possible, the town continues to search for ways to engage kids safely in order to avoid situations like the one at Mindowaskin Park, while still giving teens the ability to socialize with one another.