Fairfield to fine people going to closed parks and beaches

FAIRFIELD — After three weeks of people apparently still congregating at the town’s closed parks, beaches and public spaces, the Fairfield Police Department is ready to write scofflaws $92 tickets for trespassing.

First Selectwoman Brenda Kupchick said the decision to fine people ignoring the order to stay away came after she and other town officials repeatedly received texts, phone calls and emails about people gathering at parks, playgrounds and other town facilities.

Kupchick signed an executive order to close Fairfield’s public recreation areas on March 16 after the first cases of the new coronavirus in town were confirmed.

As of Wednesday evening, state officials report Fairfield had 113 confirmed cases of the virus and five deaths related to COVID-19.

Over the weekend, “it was reported that parents and kids were at McKinley (Elementary School) playground like it was a normal day, like there was no pandemic,” Kupchick said Monday, adding that there are signs posted at all public locations saying they are closed. “I have also received numerous reports that Warde High School track was used.”

The first selectwoman said signs notifying people of the closure at Warde had been removed and a barrier preventing people from entering had been ripped down. She said she had several reports of teenagers hanging out in the parking lot.

“I got reports that Mill River was jam-packed,” she said. “They took down the barricades. They did it at Lake Mohegan, too.”

Kupchick said the number of reports of people ignoring the rules was not only upsetting to her, but to members of the community who are doing the right thing.

“(They) are frustrated that, they feel, there are some people in our community who are putting us all at risk,” she said — and putting police officers responding to the complaints in danger because they have to interact with the people ignoring the safety measures.

Fairfield Police Capt. Robert Kalamaras said “encouraging” rather than “enforcing” the rules was not working. He said the department hopes the public now takes the warning seriously.

Starting Monday, Kalamaras said, if a person is at any of the town’s parks, beaches or open spaces, they will be fined. He said the department is hoping for voluntary compliance. He added that none of the money from the fines would go to the department; it all goes to the state.

“Our officers are now forced to engage with the public,” Kalamaras said. “They don’t know if that person is infected or not. That person may not know. It’s unfortunate that we have to rise to this level.”

Kupchick said she is also frustrated with inconsistency from Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration, which, she said, should be taking the lead when it comes to protecting Connecticut’s communities.

“The first week, the (state) parks were open,” Kupchick said. “Last week, they (started) restricting access to a certain amount of people. I don’t know how they’re doing that. They closed the Grand Canyon. Yellowstone Park is closed. Everybody needs to be on the same page here. We’re not on a vacation. This is a pandemic.”

Kupchick said she has been getting emails from Fairfield residents worried for their own and their family’s health. She said that included emails from nurses and doctors who work at hospitals in the area.

“They cannot believe the public is not doing everything in their power to protect themselves,” Kupchick said, “so that those poor people, who have to be on the front lines and take care of people, aren’t overwhelmed.”