Incidents of vandalism in Port Jefferson village targeting both public and private property have sparked debate among residents.
During a public meeting held at Village Hall on Tuesday, July 5, Deputy Mayor Kathianne Snaden reported that newly renovated bathroom facilities at Rocketship Park were vandalized just four days after opening. During the incident, a toilet paper dispenser was kicked off the wall.
Fred Leute, chief of code enforcement, outlined the long history of vandalism at this site. He said the bathroom has been targeted several times in recent years.
In the past, vandals tampered with the paper dispensers, tearing out towels and throwing them around. The renovations made to the bathroom were intended to limit such behavior.
Leute attributes the vandalism of the bathrooms primarily to boredom. “They’re there and they’re very bored,” he said.
In an exclusive interview, Snaden detailed the precautions undertaken by the village to safeguard the facility from such vandalism.
“The bathroom was built solid, using materials and concepts that are even done in prison bathrooms,” she said. “Even having done that, there was vandalism in the bathroom.”
This prompted the village board of trustees to institute a closing time of 7 p.m. for both bathrooms at Rocketship Park. The stated purpose of this measure, according to this month’s edition of The Port eReport, is “to protect our valuable asset and ensure that the families visiting Rocketship Park can use our village amenity worry-free.”
Snaden added that the bathrooms are easy targets for vandalism given the conditions of privacy and seclusion that are inherent to any restroom facility.
“The bathrooms are out of sight,” she said. “As much as people say, ‘Code is out there. Why isn’t code preventing this?’ Well, code cannot follow people into bathrooms.”
Both Snaden and Leute said that efforts to monitor vandalism in the bathrooms and counteract this problem remain ongoing.
Along with the vandalism of the bathrooms, several storefronts have been hit in recent weeks by vandals. Leute said that his department has received three reports of vandalism since June 24.
Debbie Bowling, owner of Pasta Pasta, said that her restaurant was targeted by three individuals one night who pulled flowers from the flower boxes and tossed them in the street.
“It wasn’t a big financial cost, but it was very disheartening,” Bowling said. “It’s not the first time, unfortunately. We have had Christmas lights pulled off. We have had other plants pulled out and damaged.”
Christine Nyholm is the owner of the Port Bistro and Pub, a location that was also vandalized recently. She had to replace two of her outdoor tables after they were damaged overnight. Nyholm said these acts of vandalism interrupt her business operations.
“It disrupts us the next day because we have less tables,” she said. “Because the tables are totally broken and we can’t use them anymore, we can’t put them out to feed people.”
Leute maintained that incidents of vandalism must be reported in a timely manner and to the proper authorities first.
“Call Suffolk [police department], make a report, write down the field report — the central complaint number — and then call us immediately after you have done that,” he said. “We have investigators here. We’ll immediately investigate it.”
These procedures were followed properly after the vandalism of Pasta Pasta, according to Leute. Because of this, two of the three vandals have already been identified by his department. He urged village residents to follow this example during future instances of vandalism.
By holding off on reporting these matters to police, Snaden said the village is limited in its ability to gather the necessary information to investigate the incident.
“We do have cameras throughout the village and that footage is only held onto for so long,” she said, adding, “If we find out about it within a day or two, that footage can be grabbed and we can then start to look to identify and hand that over to Suffolk police.”
On the whole, Leute does not view vandalism as a critical public safety concern, saying that this is not supported by the data provided by the Suffolk police department. The police department could not be reached for comment for this story.
To the business owners who may be at risk of future vandalism, Leute said they can protect their storefronts by moving equipment indoors before closing.
“They really should put away any movable objects, such as small tables or chairs or umbrellas,” the code chief said. “If you put it away and put it under lock and key, they can’t destroy it or turn it over or do any of those things.”
Despite these added precautions on the part of business owners, Snaden reiterated that vandalism is a disruptive behavior that will not be tolerated in the village.
“That being said, we don’t want to minimize this behavior … or any type of behavior that damages anybody’s property,” she said. “We all have to work together and I think step one is putting things away.”