A community in northern Wisconsin has installed security cameras at a newer park, which includes a nearly $300,000 playground, in order to thwart recent acts of vandalism to city property.
New cameras installed this month are providing 24/7 surveillance of Normal Park in Merrill, Wis., including views of the gazebo and the all-access playground, Dustin Brown, information technology manager for the city, told the Merrill Foto News.
Dan Wendorf, Merrill Area Parks and Recreation director, confirmed the camera installation was completed on Nov. 3, 2022, and is in direct response to vandalism at the park.
The all-access playground at Normal Park, which opened in October 2019 alongside the gazebo at the park, was the result of a nine-year plan by the Merrill Optimist Club, extensive volunteer hours, contributions from Merrill area businesses, and a grant. At a total cost of nearly $300,000, the playground is frequently used and highly visible, and yet it, along with other playgrounds, bathrooms and park properties in Merrill, have been the recent target of vandals.
“We’ve had way too much (vandalism) in way too many locations all year long,” Wendorf told the newspaper. Specifically in Normal Park, “it has been vandalized dozens of times causing damage to the new playground, restrooms, Gazebo, etc.”
“We’ve had vandalism just about everywhere this year, and we cannot afford to keep paying to fix/replace/repair all of the damage all of the time, so we need to try and crack down,” Wendorf said.
Merrill Police Chief Corey Bennett said there have been some arrests and citations related to vandalism in Merrill.
Over the summer, a blue egg-shaped piece of playground equipment at the park was broken off and is now unusable. That one piece of equipment cost $2,000 to replace, said Randy Wixon, a member of the Merrill Optimist Club who was worked on the all-access playground project.
Without cameras, some damage can be difficult to isolate. “The Normal Park playground equipment has been hard to prove it’s not improper use vs. overuse vs. criminal damage,” Bennett told the Foto News. “Looking at the hardware that was broken, it was almost impossible to determine it just didn’t fail on its own.”
He said other damage has been vandalism. "There have been clear acts of vandalism, too,” he said. Railings on the gazebo being broken off are one such example, and whether deliberate acts or as the result of horseplay, the new video surveillance will certainly help resolve those kinds of cases, Bennett said.
Due to the ongoing issues, there is a plan to get cameras at multiple parks, Bennett said.
“We asked for cameras in two other parks through the 2023 budgetary process,” Wendorf said. “But that hasn’t been finalized yet. If we don’t receive funding for the two other locations, we will have to wait until the next budget cycle.”
The Merrill Optimist Club funded the installation of the new cameras at Normal Park.
The cameras were a necessary addition to the park to keep the park safe and to protect the community’s investment for the benefit of the community, Wixon told the newspaper. The network of cameras installed can also be expanded if additional cameras are warranted in the future.