As Bernabe Tarnovsky flew a kite Monday evening at the water's edge of Shady Beach, his only problem was handling its modern design. But Tarnovsky did have one concern: He hadn't seen any Norwalk police officers around. "It's a nice place," said Tarnovsky, father to two young girls. "You want to be safe around here."
"My budget went from $160,000 to $60,000 for police coverage," said Mike Mocciae , director of the Norwalk Department of Parks and Recreation. "That's where I am." But he said it wasn't a concern. "If there's a problem, there's always one officer down there. If there's a problem, he can call somebody else in. But right now, that's what we have funding for. We haven't had any issues."
On two recent visits, however, The Daily Norwalk did not see any police officers at the beach.
Mocciae said safety improvements at the park had reduced the likelihood of problems, and he is comfortable with the staffing. "I have to pay for police to come to any park in the city. They don't just come. ...They don't necessarily drive through any park on any regular basis. They're not patrolling them. So I have to pay for them on overtime."
Police Chief Harry Rilling disputed that. "The Recreation and Parks Department hires off-duty police officers on a schedule determined by them," he said. "Additionally, at any given time, there are two or three (depending on the day of week and hour of day) police vehicles patrolling the East Norwalk section of town. Calf Pasture Beach is included in their patrol area, and they pass through at frequent intervals during their normal tours of duty."
Workers at the beach said police come through "once in a while" during the day and said they're not needed more than that. But there are "more at night, when the kids are in here." There are also undercover officers around at night.
Mocciae said the dune buggy police acquired new last year is seldom used. Lifeguards said they had seen it used only on the July 4 weekend. They have also noticed fewer police at the beach, but they weren't concerned. "It's a family beach," lifeguards said. They agreed that increased lighting helped, as did the traffic islands installed to prevent drivers from speeding through at 45 mph, which they used to do, they said. They don't know where the surveillance cameras are but are sure they're a good idea.
The lifeguards said they could call for help and it would arrive in minutes. "Normal business hours, if there's an issue with the beach, they call on the phone and the police come down, just like you would anywhere in the city," Mocciae said. "My staff that's there, that's vigilant of any situation, they'll call the police. So as of right now, we believe that we're staffed to where we need to be."
Mocciae said only two minor incidents had occurred at Calf Pasture Beach over Memorial Day weekend , when there were at least 15,000 people at the beach, according to Mayor Richard Moccia. Mocciae promised ample police presence during the Fourth of July weekend.
It was an idyllic Monday evening as Tarnovsky's 4-year-old daughter, Romina, ran about in her butterfly wings. People threw a Frisbee nearby, and others played Mexican music in the parking lot. It was hard to imagine anyone needing a cop.
"I don't know if they can do cuts in any other place but security is the most important thing," Tarnovsky said. "I bring my kids here ... all I know is my taxes are due."
A police cruiser arrived a short while later, at 7 p.m. The officer parked near the snack bar.
Have you been to the beach? What do you think?
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