A wave of illegal dumping incidents in Suffolk County parks in recent years prompted officials Monday to make it easier for visitors to report suspicious activity.
County lawmakers announced a new telephone hotline and email address that parkgoers can use to report dumping and other problems such as vandalism and graffiti they see in parks.
“What we want people to do is report it if they see it,” Legis. Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) said during a news conference at Lakeland County Park in Islandia. “It’s important that those of us who are here to enjoy our beautiful parks are also going to protect them.”
County officials plan to launch a social media and public awareness campaign to call attention to the program, dubbed Parks Watch, which is modeled after neighborhood watch programs in residential areas.
The campaign, also known as Report Illegal Dumping, or RID, will be highlighted in county parks by new signs bearing a pair of owl eyes that list the phone number, 631-854-1423, and email address, RID@suffolkcountyny.gov, for visitors to use.
RID was created earlier this year in legislation sponsored by Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) and signed into law by County Executive Steve Bellone.
Officials have been alarmed by a spate of dumping incidents in parks and open spaces in Melville, Manorville, Coram, Miller Place and elsewhere.
Islip Town’s Roberto Clemente Park in Brentwood — which closed in April 2014 when 40,000 tons of contaminated construction debris was found there — reopened on July 31.
Besides illegal dumping, officials said parks are easy targets for vandalism, drug dealing, gang activity and graffiti.
Visitors should call 911 if they spot “serious criminal activity,” Legis. Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said. Suffolk County police are installing security cameras to monitor parks for illegal activity, Anker said.
“You’re not going to see them. You’re not going to know where they are,” she said of the cameras. “It’s a shame we have to get to this, but we have to protect our parks.”
Suffolk has about 70,000 acres of county parkland, County Parks Commissioner Philip Bertolt said. About one-third of the county consists of state, county or municipal parks, he added.
Much of that land is in remote areas away from homes and businesses, making those places difficult to monitor, Bertolt said.
He added he hopes the Parks Watch signs alone might deter people from vandalism and illegal dumping in the parks.
“If people will know they are being watched, hopefully it will keep them away,” he said.
Visitors who call the hotline should provide useful information such as license plate numbers of involved vehicles, and the date and time of suspicious activity, Hahn said.
She said dumping and vandalism cost the county “millions of dollars” to repair and replace playground equipment and bathroom fixtures that suffer damage.
“We love our parks in Suffolk County,” Hahn said. “And we’re going to protect them.”