Saying she and others researched a proposed installation of security cameras at Waveny’s entrances, the head of the New Canaan Parks & Recreation Commission on Wednesday night voiced frustration about what appears now to be the appointed body’s inability to make a formal recommendation on the widely discussed matter.
Faced with a petition calling for the cameras that now has garnered more than 2,200 digital signatures, the Commission earlier this summer formed a subcommittee to study the issue, solicited an expert recommendation from police, met with vendors and prepared to request a $25,000 special appropriation for the installation.
The Commission was “ready to move forward,” Chair Rona Siegel said at its regular meeting, held in Town Hall.
“However, we were just informed that it is not in the purview of Parks and Rec to determine where security cameras go, it is [up to] the Board of Selectmen and the first selectman, Kevin Moynihan, to determine and that, lucky us, we’ll just be stuck with the aesthetics of the cameras.”
Addressing the petition’s creator, Hilary Ormond, a guest at the meeting, Siegel continued, “So I share your frustration, because I think that the time and effort put on that was meant for whatever the outcome and recommendation from the police chief was, but we are here with our hands are tied.”
Moynihan, also a guest at the meeting, said he had issued a statement on Waveny and cameras and that he intends to meet with the Police Commission to discuss the matter.
“Public safety is the Police Department’s responsibility, and when I observed how flailing our staff was over this issue, I realized it was not being handled properly, so we are working on a plan and we will come forward with a plan for the selectmen, working with the Police Commission,” he said.
Asked about his statement during a Sept. 5 press briefing in his office, Moynihan said he and others at Town Hall are putting together a safety plan for public parks and buildings in New Canaan that will encompass Waveny. Asked whether that plan will include the police recommendation regarding security cameras at the three motor vehicle entrances to the park—one on South Avenue and two on Lapham Road—Moynihan said “yes, clearly.”
Yet it remains unclear when that installation is to take place, what’s preventing the town from taking it up or why the legwork already done by Parks & Rec, an advisory body—work that included soliciting an opinion from New Canaan’s security experts, the police—is to be cast aside.
Moynihan said during the briefing that Parks & Rec members were pursuing their recommendation “in response to a petition.”
“A knee-jerk reaction to a petition,” he said.
Later in the briefing, Moynihan said of the Commission’s recommendation that “it got teed up in a misleading or inappropriate way.”
He said that there’s “almost a zero record of crime in Waveny Park” and that some have misinterpreted statistics showing that the number of incidents police responded to in Waveny over the past five years was greater than in Irwin, Kiwanis and Mead Parks combined.
“The point is, do we have a crime problem?” Moynihan said.
Asked whether people have different perceptions of safety, the first selectman said yes and added that “people raised a concern with me we have playgrounds that don’t have fences, someone could drive a car and kill a bunch of kids.”
“We are a soft target,” Moynihan said. “We have bigger issues to deal with with security, just like the schools do, than just cameras at the entrances. It’s a bigger topic. And it’s one that you do not put into the hands of people who are responsible for recreation and facilities for recreation.”
Moynihan said that efforts in recent years to “open up” Waveny’s wooded trails have made the park safer.
To the idea that some Waveny park users feel unsafe, Moynihan said, “We have miles of trails that are not in the forest. Anybody that wants to walk they have a choice—they can, if they are uncomfortable in the forest, there are miles of trails in the rest of the park.”
Asked about the police chief’s observation that the New Canaan YMCA saw a problem of thefts from cars decline significantly after cameras were installed in its parking lot, Moynihan said, “But they had a problem.” Told that vehicles in Waveny have been similarly broken into, Moynihan said the incidence of car break-ins in the park is less than the rest of town, and asked, “Should we put cameras all over town, not just the parks but everywhere to try to make New Canaan safer?”
Moynihan declined to say what are the general areas that the broader plan for public safety in New Canaan will encompass, saying that will be discussed in executive session with the Police Commission.
Asked whether the funding for the cameras in Waveny would be made during a special appropriation prior to the budget season (whose funds become available July 1), Moynihan said, “There is no emergency.”
To the assertion that the public recommendation from police will stand in nine months as it does now, Moynihan said, “We do not do special appropriations.”
Told that New Canaan made special appropriations with respect to Saxe Middle School ($18.6 million), snow removal ($198,000 last year), New Canaan Library ($475,000) and the Silvermine Fowler Preserve ($267,000), Moynihan said those were “extraordinary items of their size and timing-wise.”
Asked whether he felt there’s no timing issue with respect to the police recommendation for cameras at Waveny, Moynihan said no.
Not everyone agrees.
In addressing Parks & Rec on Wednesday, Ormond said she was “a little disappointed that it doesn’t seem to have moved much past the planning stages at this point.”
“And I’m not sure where we stand,” she said. “I do understand that it is a lot of work, I understand that Public Works is perhaps getting proposals from vendors as to cost. I would have hoped we would have been further in the process at this point after an entire summer. And after what we saw in the arrest warrant in the Dulos case, I think that the need for it and the lack of it in that specific spot has been highlighted now on a nationwide basis, that there is no camera there. And I think that that just highlights the need for it even more.”
She referred to evidence presented in a police arrest warrant application that Fotis Dulos, estranged husband of missing New Canaan mom Jennifer Dulos, had driven here the morning she went missing and parked near the southwestern corner of Waveny, on Lapham Road, before driving back in the afternoon—presumably with her body in the car—and switched vehicles before heading back upstate for a dump run also caught on surveillance video.
In addition to questions of what specific town body is to lead the effort or why what appears to be a straightforward police recommendation would be temporarily put off as a result, the question of whether to install security cameras at Waveny’s entrances appears to have become muddled in this local election season. Two weeks after Democratic first selectman candidate Craig Donovan called for New Canaan to act quickly in putting in the cameras, Republican Selectman Nick Williams said safety concerns regarding Waveny had been “politicized.”