Thirty seconds. That’s probably how long it took to vandalize the men’s restroom at Theodore Roosevelt Park, according to Justin McCaffrey, the Town of Oyster Bay’s commissioner of public safety.
The scribbling, done with a black Sharpie, which McCaffrey described as “gibberish,” effectively ruined the $60,000 to $75,000 renovation project in the Oyster Bay park’s restroom, which took years to be approved by the town. So far, those responsible have not been caught.
Joe Pinto, commissioner of the town’s parks, said he had been encouraged that the town administration was focusing on park facilities that had not been renovated for years. Residents of the hamlet had been complaining for some time about the disrepair in the Theodore Roosevelt Park restrooms, Pinto said. Work began in January to replace the walls, partitions, toilets and sinks. The new restrooms opened in April.
“We were proud we could do this and were getting a lot of compliments,” Pinto said. “It was beautiful. We take pride in our work.”
Around Labor Day, he recalled, he began seeing graffiti in the men’s room stalls. Then it got worse. “What is sad to me is the administration heard the cries of the residents, put money aside and then spent it to improve the restrooms, and in six months it was graffitied up,” Pinto said. “We tried washing it, but that didn’t work. We’re going to have to have it painted, and that won’t look as nice.”
Rich LaMarca, president of the Oyster Bay Civic Association, said he had heard from police that the majority of the graffiti appears to have been done by the same person, although no one is certain. And police said the graffiti is not gang-related.
“We never had this back in the day,” said LaMarca, a lifelong Oyster Bay resident. “If it’s a bunch of kids trying to have a good time, shame on us. If it’s someone from outside, we need to know who’s doing this.”
McCaffrey, a retired New York City police sergeant and a former supervisor in the NYPD Gang Unit, agreed that the vandalism doesn’t appear to be gang-related. It is urgent that it be covered over, however, because, like the subway, when people see graffiti, they will add more, he noted.
Plans for stopping future vandalizing of the restrooms are under discussion.
There is funding in the 2020 town budget, McCaffrey said, to add to the cameras in town parks, and Public Safety is researching the cost. There are currently seven cameras in Theodore Roosevelt Park. He wants to add cameras outside the restrooms, pavilions and picnic areas, but he said, the town can’t put cameras inside the restrooms.
“The cameras aren’t the solution,” McCaffrey said. “[They’re] one piece of it. Stepping up patrols further will help, too.”
Hiring monitors for the restrooms has been discussed, but that might move the problem elsewhere, he said.
Pinto added that posting monitors in the restrooms from 7 a.m. until 11 p.m. from April to October would be expensive. “None of the other parks’ bathrooms are this bad,” he said. “But if we get monitors for TR Park, how do say no to the other locations? We’re thinking about it, but I’m not sure that that’s the direction we’re going to go.”
Locking the restrooms, and posting a town worker in a booth nearby to provide a key, is another option. “How bad is it that a kid would have to ask for a key to use the restroom?” Pinto said, shaking his head. “But we’re considering it.”
LaMarca said that education in the schools would be helpful. “Maybe the police or Public Safety can speak at the schools,” he said. “Maybe we can also put material out there on social media to reach the kids.”
The vandals, McCaffrey said, are not representative of the children in the hamlet. “I think it’s a small percentage of kids doing this, and they’re ruining it for everybody,” he said. “We all hung out in the parks as kids.”
People like seeing the increased police presence in the parks, he said. “We’re thankful that in such a busy park as Theodore Roosevelt Park, we don’t have major crimes like rape and robberies. [The vandalism] is an example of quality-of-life issues that we do have in the park.”
LaMarca said that the children living in Oyster Bay need to feel connected to the park. “And maybe we need to speak to parents, too, to urge them to talk to their children about this,” he said. “It’s their community, too. The kids should take pride in their community.”