‘Out of control’: Committee discusses vandalism in park bathrooms

Harrison Township official announces the facilities will shut down at 4 p.m.

Acts of vandalism at Ella Harris Park bathrooms have included two fires – one in a trash can – according to Harrison Township Deputy Administrator Dennis Chambers.

At an otherwise uneventful Mullica Hill committee meeting on Oct. 3, a major topic was what to do about cases of vandalism happening in the bathrooms at Ella Harris Park.

“Today we shut down the bathrooms at Ella Harris Park,” said Harrison Township Deputy Administrator Dennis Chambers. “Normally the doors lock at 7:30 or 8 o’clock; it moves with the daylight hours. We are shutting them down at 4 o’clock because we have had three instances of vandalism in the last week and a half.

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“(We’ve had) two fires,” he added. “We’re lucky we didn’t lose the building on the last one; fortunately, it’s blocked. (Someone) set a trash can on fire and it basically melted to the ground. So, it seems to be happening after hours, after the workforce leaves.”

Chambers told the committee that while he’s informed police about the vandalisms, there is only so much they can do. So, he pitched the idea of having cameras placed in the park to catch the perpetrators, since cameras inside the bathrooms are unlawful.

“It’s not a cheap expenditure, and if we do it here, I’ve talked with our IT people about a broader plan of doing all the parks and potentially up and down Main Street, with traffic lights, things like that,” said Chambers. “So that the police can physically watch the cameras from the police station and potentially their phones or their MDTs (Mobile Data Terminals) in the car.

“The technology is just there right now,” he added. “It’s just not a super cheap thing. But it’s something we’re gonna look to probably budget for and use some of the dollars that we have, because especially up here in this park, it is getting out of control.”

While there is no exact estimate for the cost of such a large project, Chambers said that one camera would cost about $1,200 a year. The idea coincides with a similar project in area schools being done in partnership with Mantua and Wenonah, since kids from both townships attend Clearview Middle and Clearview High schools with Mullica Hill students.

While the committee seemed to support the camera idea, two members did argue against closing the bathrooms earlier, since schools use Ella Harris Park for student practices. A resident at the meeting even suggested renting Port-a-Potties for the time being.

Resolutions and ordinances were also passed with little opposition from the committee during its meeting, and after a quick public portion, the session concluded after about 40 minutes.

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