After cracking down on trespassing and underage drinking over the past six months, Rockville Centre police said a local hotspot for delinquency has not been as active.
Teenagers have long used the overpass crossing Peninsula Boulevard and leading to Hempstead Lake State Park — dubbed “the bridge” — as a meeting place for late-night drinking and weekend parties.
For years, underage teens have stashed alcohol and sometimes drugs in bushes in the park, according to Det. Nicholas DeLuca, youth officer of the Rockville Centre Police Department. Later on, they would walk over the bridge empty-handed to surpass police checkpoints, but retrieve what they had stashed. There, in the woods, or the beach closer to the water, DeLuca said teenagers would engage in behaviors that their parents don’t allow at home.
Today, however, this infamous pastime for Rockville Centre youth has calmed down, according to DeLuca. With the help of the State Park police and the community’s efforts, he said, the department has received significantly less calls regarding the bridge, which he noted “shows that what we’re doing is working.”
Over the past six months, Rockville Centre police received 11 calls regarding youth at the bridge, according to Police Commissioner James Vafeades. A total of 54 of those types of calls were made in the 12 months before that.
Police are more frequently patrolling the area, DeLuca said, walking across the bridge, through the woods and throughout the beach nearby, which he noted is where the parties often occur. Officers, he added, have been inspecting surrounding bushes for stashes of alcohol.
When there is activity, the perpetrators are given tickets for anything from underage possession or drinking to hanging around the park after dark. Additionally, their parents are called.
“The kids getting in trouble with their parents is great because then they will pick them up instead of their friends’ parents taking them home,” DeLuca said, explaining that the teenagers will often continue behaving badly if their parents do not find out what they were up to.
“Usually we’d have kids walk over the bridge every night with beer and that has stopped,” he continued. “Hopefully this trend continues, so they cannot go there and they find other ways to occupy their time instead of going to the woods and drinking on Friday and Saturday nights.”
He urged residents to call the police immediately if they see or suspect unusual activity in the area.
William Brown, manager of Hempstead Lake State Park, gave credit to DeLuca at the end of June, noting in a letter that he appreciates the work police have done. “It has really made an impact on nighttime activity,” he wrote.
Brown said the State Park police have been concentrating on patrolling the area and reported less garbage in the last six months. He said that law enforcement, with help from the Rockville Centre Coalition for Youth, are “on the right track” to ending the issue.
After the offending teens are given tickets, they are summoned to Village Judge William Croutier, who then orders them to do community service with the Coalition, according to Ruthanne McCormack, project coordinator of the Coalition. This ranges from eight hours for offenses like possession of alcohol to 12 hours for offenses like throwing a party.
“I think word has gone out that if you are caught drinking there, you will have to answer to the police and the Coalition,” McCormack said. The Coalition, in partnership with the police department and the school district, has also disseminated fliers at school and community events. “[Are you] going to the party at the bridge?” it says. “We’ll see you there! And we’re supplying the tickets!”
During community service, the teens must wear T-shirts encouraging drug-free behavior and receive education regarding alcohol and drugs. Six have completed their hours over the last year or so, and have learned their lesson, McCormack noted.
“I think its important the parents understand what will happen if their children are caught,” she said.
Tom O’Rourke, 17, who graduated South Side High School in June received a ticket at the bridge last fall. He was walking on the overpass with his friend, he said, but did not intend to hang out there. “I just happened to have alcohol in my bag,” O’Rourke said. He and his friends saw a police car, and he was later stopped by what he described as an undercover cop. He received a ticket for possession of alcohol and was sentenced to 12 hours of community service.
“I happened to be around the wrong people at the wrong time,” O’Rourke said, adding that he acknowledges it was his fault.
To fulfill his community service hours, O’Rourke cleaned the Sandel Senior Center and talked to younger children about drug awareness with the Coalition.
“Honestly, I’m just relieved it’s over,” he said. “A fresh start, a clean slate.” This fall, he is going away to college and said he does not plan on going back to the bridge.
“That’s all in my past,” O’Rourke said.