Kingsport Times News Thursday, April 24, 2014

Local News

Police on trail of Gate City park vandals

April 11th, 2013 9:41 pm by Wes Bunch

GATE CITY — Gate City police say they are investigating a series of vandalism incidents that have caused damage to facilities at Grogan Park.

Gate City Police Chief Kim Birchfield said several incidents involving damage to city property have occurred recently at the park, including one just last week.

“(The vandalism) varies from tearing the paper towel racks off the walls and stuffing paper towels in the toilets and causing them to overflow,” Birchfield said. “We’ve even had a fountain torn off the wall, which was quite costly to the town. They tore up benches last year, and last week they tore up another park bench down there.”

Birchfield said similar acts of vandalism occurred at the park last year.

Town police are pursuing several leads on possible suspects in the most recent incidents, Birchfield said, and are utilizing surveillance cameras provided by the Virginia State Police at the park to aid in the investigation.

“We’ve got some information and some idea of who it may be,” Birchfield said. “We’re going to be interviewing some folks and we’ve called in the state police to help out.

“We’re not going to let it go. When we get enough information to file charges, we’re going to prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law.”

The vandalism usually picks up as the park becomes used more during the warmer months, Birchfield said.

“It comes in spurts,” Birchfield said.

“We won’t have anything through the cold months, but when the warm weather starts and the summer gets here and folks are around the park it starts going on again.”

In addition to increased patrols, Birchfield said his office is asking residents who use the park to report any suspicious activity they witness.

“We would ask that the public keep their eyes and ears open and if they see anything call us,” Birchfield said. “Don’t hesitate to call 911 and we’ll get an officer out there.”

Birchfield said information on past vandalism can be reported by calling (276) 386-9111.

The issue needs to be addressed for several reasons, Birchfield said, including the cost to the town and taxpayers.

“We’re a small town with a small budget and we’re trying to have nice things down there for our citizens, and our visitors,” Birchfield said. “It’s hard to keep putting it back when you have people that keep tearing it up.”

In addition to the repair costs, Birchfield said the town is also planning to make investments in the near future that improve the park’s amenities.

“The town is in the process right now of attempting to put a splash pad down there for the citizens to enjoy,” Birchfield said. “If we do that, are these same vandals going to come down there and vandalize our splash pad? That’s why we’ve got to put a stop to this.”

Signs are currently posted at the park noting that it is not to be used after dark, although Birchfield said that is seldom enforced in the summer months due to little league baseball games that are held there.

Birchfield said stricter enforcement of those rules could be implemented as a last resort if the vandalism persists.

“We don’t want to do that, but we will start issuing citations for folks who are down there after hours if we need to,” Birchfield said.

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