Some perspective, please

It was disheartening to read Tuesday's story in this newspaper, "Whale tail turns into outdoor toilet." It is giving this city national and even international attention from news organizations for all the wrong reasons.

We caution the public to keep this matter in perspective.

City officials turned off the whale tail fountain on New London's just-refurbished Parade plaza Monday after a disturbing incident there last Friday. A drunken man who had defecated on himself partially disrobed and stood beneath the stream of water to clean himself.

It was a disgusting and disturbing act, but the city responded swiftly and appropriately. The police department's deputy chief, Marshall Segar, was driving past just after 8 a.m. and witnessed the incident. He ordered the man, later identified as 47-year-old Andrew W. Cook, out of the fountain, and called for backup and an ambulance.

Mr. Cook, charged with disorderly conduct and second-degree threatening from a prior warrant, was taken by ambulance to the hospital for evaluation and is currently in jail.

Public works employees hosed down the plaza and added additional chlorine to the fountain's recycling pool. A short time later, the plaza hosted a successful kick-off to this summer's first weekly farmers market and "Previews on Parade," a noontime entertainment event held Fridays.

So how did the actions of an intoxicated vagrant escalate out of perspective? The old-fashioned way, word of mouth and embellishment. Over the weekend talk of the incident and another a day earlier, in which an intoxicated man fell down steps on the Parade plaza, spread.

At Monday's City Council meeting, councilor and mayoral candidate Michael Buscetto III, responding to two public comments about the reports, raised concerns about the "sanitary aspect" of the water in the fountain. On Tuesday, in a follow-up conversation, Mr. Buscetto told us, "People are showering in it with soap. People are peeing in it. They're soiling in it. People are rinsing blood off in it."

Really? Neither police nor fire officials could document that bad behavior. If the city is going to discuss problems related to homelessness, let's base it on known facts, not hearsay and hysteria.

Catherine Zall, executive director of the New London Homeless Hospitality Center, said her group has begun meeting with representatives of the fire department, New London's new social services employee, emergency room staff, and others, to identify the so-called "frequent fliers" who repeatedly cause disturbances downtown and look for ways to deal with them. She estimates that problem population at five or six.

That's a reasonable approach. Overhyping an incident that reflects negatively on a project that can play an important role in the downtown's continued progress is not reasonable, nor helpful.

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