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    Thursday, June 13, 2024

    West Haven, Stratford officials confronting issues with rowdy beachgoers

    Unrest at the beach in West Haven and a shooting at a local gas station authorities said was driven by a beach party invitation on social media has prompted officials to close city parks from sunset to sunrise.

    But West Haven isn't the only community that's grappled with unruly behavior at its beaches, with officials in other shoreline communities also issuing restrictions in an effort to crack down on fights and other disturbances caused by beachgoers.

    Stratford officials said Tuesday they were closing two beaches late that afternoon ahead of a planned youth gathering. The closures affected Short and Long beaches, Stratford police said in a Facebook post.

    The post said the planned closures were "in anticipation of a large gathering of youth."

    "We are actively monitoring the area to ensure safety," the post said.

    The decision came after the unrest reported Monday afternoon and evening in West Haven, which caused minor injuries to two police officers, Police Chief Joseph Perno said. Another person was injured after shots were fired at a gas station, the chief said. That person, who he described as a bystander, had minor injuries from other bullet or glass fragments, he said.

    Perno said a fight broke out at the beach by Oak Street during the afternoon hours. The shots-fired incident at the gas station occurred later in the evening.

    Officials believe the incidents started with a social media invitation to a beach party that prompted a large amount of attention.

    Perno said one of the officers was injured during the fights at the beach, the other during the gas station incident.

    In response, West Haven Mayor Dorinda Borer announced the closure of city parks from sunset to sunrise.

    "We will not be tolerating this activity or this behavior in our city from out-of-town residents or our own residents," Borer said during a news conference Tuesday.

    The mayor said it was estimated many of those involved in the unrest were from out of town, based on bus ridership.

    "I have reached out to (the Connecticut Department of Transportation) to discuss an alert system when a bus driver sees a large group heading to West Haven with a potential for an issue," she added.

    Schools also plan to talk with students about the event during an assembly, the mayor said.

    West Haven officials have raised the prospect of instituting a youth curfew city wide, but so far have not implemented one. Borer said it remains a possibility.

    In neighboring New Haven, Police Chief Karl Jacobson said authorities work closely with West Haven police, who attend intel meetings three times a week. The event at the beach didn't pop up until that day, he noted.

    "You saw like Facebook messages telling people to go down there," the New Haven police chief noted. "It was kind of like a pop-up thing. It was nice weather and everyone said, 'oh come down to the beach.'"

    A lot of New Haven people were involved in the gathering, the chief said. Since the unrest, Jacobson said officials have debriefed with West Haven to offer their help if it happens again, "and also what we could do to prevent it."

    New Haven officials said they haven't had similar incidents. The city's parks close at sunset, with the exception of those lit, which close at 10 p.m., a spokesperson for Mayor Justin Elicker said. The beach at Lighthouse Point Park is gate-controlled with camera surveillance.

    The West Haven incident prompted police and parks staff to review entrances and exits at Lighthouse Point, the spokesperson said.

    Among the complaints from residents last year brought forward at a West Haven town hall meeting was rowdy behavior along the West Walk area — a row of beachfront condominiums with a shoreline walkway connecting the city's boardwalk to another walkway along Beach Street — as well as the boardwalk itself. Some residents complained of people riding ATVs along the boardwalk.

    Crowds of people illegally riding dirt bikes, quads and other off-road vehicles during a street takeover last summer also drew the ire of local Republican officials. The event was punctuated by a crash and arrests as the riders passed the Republican Town Committee headquarters.

    In neighboring Milford, a Memorial Day brawl in 2022 prompted an increased police presence. The fight, which broke out on Walnut Beach, saw two officers' body cameras knocked off during a scuffle, authorities said.

    Police said that fight escalated during an argument over a Bluetooth speaker. Police said a couple was trying to connect to a speaker they thought was theirs, which resulted in a confrontation that turned into a fight.

    Past reporting by Staff Writer Brian Zahn contributed to this report.

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