Lot Of Problems?

HPD Vehicles Face ‘Dumb’ Attacks

Posted: May 16, 2014

Harrisonburg officials will soon install “No Trespassing” signs in the Public Safety Building parking lot between Elizabeth and Wolfe streets after numerous cases of personal and government vehicles being damaged at night. (Photo by Preston Knight / DN-R)

HARRISONBURG — It’s not everyone’s idea of fun, but apparently people have taken up urinating in gas tanks and on police vehicles parked in the Public Safety Building’s lot.

And they’ve made a habit of scratching the cars, when not throwing bricks at them or standing on top of them to get their picture taken.

And they’ve even hopped in the back of a city employee’s personal pickup truck and drank beer.

It’s all worthy of being placed in the category of “really dumb stuff to do,” City Attorney Chris Brown said.

The issues led Harrisonburg Police Chief Steve Monticelli to search for answers, and the starting point — and, it is hoped, the end of it — is to install “No Trespassing” signs in the lot between Elizabeth and Wolfe streets.

People will be prohibited from going through the area from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., Brown told City Council on Tuesday. Monticelli assured council that the targets are those hanging out “causing mischief,” not someone simply walking through the lot.

“We absolutely have nothing in our toolbox now to move them along,” he said.

Trespassing is a Class 1 misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.

Most of the incidents are from people who have been removed from Blue Nile restaurant on Main Street or were refused entry into the business for drinking too much, Monticelli said, adding that the city has worked with the restaurant’s staff on the problem. One issue is that people don’t want to go into the restaurant to use the restroom, he said.

“It’s mainly intoxicated individuals,” Monticelli said.

People typically walk through the parking lot to get to other downtown bars at night or home if they live in or near downtown. The Harrisonburg police and fire departments, plus the Emergency Communications Center, use the Public Safety Building, and many employees aren’t around to observe people misbehaving at night, City Manager Kurt Hodgen said.

One police vehicle was taken out of service temporarily because its door was kicked in, HPD Capt. Dan Claytor said. A dollar amount on overall damage has not been calculated, he said.

“When you add up all the dollar amounts [of vehicles parked there], a couple of enterprising folks could do serious damage to our ability to respond in a short period of time,” Hodgen said. “This won’t necessarily eliminate the damage. It’s still a matter of catching somebody. I think a little bit of publicity and maybe some peer pressure …  will maybe resolve the issue.

“We looked at this as kind of step one in hopes it would eliminate the problem.”

The second step, he said, would be to install cameras, while the “worst-case” scenario would be adding gates, though that would hamper the ability of emergency vehicles to get out of the lot quickly.

Since the signs are only a departmental policy change, City Council did not need to approve them.

“I want to respect the reason for the request, but that is where people are going to walk,” said City Councilman Kai Degner, who prefers adding “No Loitering” signs. “It’s just ironic we need ‘no trespassing’ through the police cars.”

Contact Preston Knight at 574-6272 or pknight@dnronline.com

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