The summer began with significant lifeguard shortages in American cities large and small, and it winds down with public pool safety once again in the news. A spate of after-hours break ins has resulted in vandalism and, in at least once case, death by drowning.
In East Hartford, Conn., in late July, 16-year-old Tresor Boroze drowned in the Hockanum Park pool after he and a group of friends reportedly hopped the fence surrounding the pool. Along with “no trespassing” signs on the fence, police told local media that the area is monitored by motion detectors.
“Officers responded … just after midnight … for a report of juveniles inside the fenced area of the property,” WTNH.com reported. “While on their way, police received information that someone may be underwater.”
“We are working with law enforcement to understand just how this tragedy occurred,” East Harford Mayor Mike Walsh added.
A near-drowning involving a 15-year-old boy occurred in Baltimore earlier that week, the latest in a series of pool break ins that have city officials worried.
“There’s been an uptick in trespassing at the pools after hours without a lifeguard on staff, and it’s causing safety issues,” Nikki Cobbs, chief of aquatics for the Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks, told wbaltv.com.
The incident, which took place at Roosevelt Pool in Hampden around 9 p.m. on a Sunday, followed other pool break ins that have caused substantial damage.
“So far this year, we’ve had 50-pound umbrella bases thrown in the pool, we’ve had glass bottles broken and thrown into the pool and that resulted in the pool having to be drained and cleaned and was down for two days,” Cobbs said, adding that she drives around at night to keep an eye on the pools under her jurisdiction. “You might think it’s fun, but it’s not fun to see your friend die because you’re not a lifeguard. So, I need parents talk to your kids about the importance of you must always swim with a lifeguard, you should not — for any reason — go to a pool after hours.”
Law enforcement officials in Stanton County, Neb., meanwhile, arrested and charged a 16-year-old with burglary, theft, criminal trespass and a curfew violation after he allegedly broke into a local pool after hours.
After-hours vandals forced the temporary closure of McAfee Pool in Wichita, Kan., too, after they cut through locks, accessed a fire extinguisher, broke a window, stole electronic property and damaged other items, according to kake.com.
“We had a break in, to the point where we had to close down the pool … so we have the ability to do some clean up out here just to make the interior safe again for our patrons and staff. About 15 thousand dollars’ worth of damage was done,” Joe Martin, aquatic supervisor for the City of Wichita, told the new station, warning that continued trespassing could have a community-wide impact. “It is a very real possibility that with these break ins that we may have to shut down different facilities to do clean up or repairs or things like that.”
While some pools are equipped with motion-sensing lights and security cameras, municipal leaders in communities impacted by late-night break ins are considering additional precautions. In Baltimore, according to wbaltv.com, “police have taken to the sky.”
“Police said Foxtrot, the [Baltimore Police Department] helicopter unit, routinely checks all city pools to prevent unattended drownings,” the news station reported. “Police said Foxtrot observed about 20 people inside the [Patterson Park Pool] around 8:30 p.m. [one day], hours after it was closed. Police used the helicopter’s loudspeakers to tell the people there were no lifeguards on duty and, for their safety, the officers ordered them out of the pool.”
Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison later told media that “we were able to successfully remove all of the individuals from the pool and secure it again.”
In July, City of Philadelphia officials went one step further and closed a public pool for the season in the wake of staffers being assaulted during the day and repeated trespassing violations at night. According to 6abc.com, staff members at McVeigh Recreation Center pool attempted to remove three females for “apparent unruly behavior.” They refused to leave and turned hostile, “taunting and threatening the staff,” according to a statement from police. “Subsequently, the staff shut down the pool, and all other occupants of the pool exited the pool without issue.”
The females then followed the staff into the rec center building and “began swinging their arms at the staff members as the employees attempted to block them from entering the building,” the news station reported. “Once staffers were able to get the females outside the rec center, police say the suspects vandalized three parked cars.”
Meanwhile, two males entered the building and stole a bag belonging to one of the employees; it was later recovered. Five people between the ages of 17 and 63 reportedly suffered minor injuries.
“We’ve had other incidents that have happened at McVeigh. In the evenings when [the] pool is closed — almost every night since the pool has been opened — people are breaking into the pool, jumping in the pool, vandalizing [the] pool and pool equipment,” Kathryn Ott Lovell, representing the city’s parks and recreation department, told the news station. “We have to make sure that the safety of our staff and the children and families is first and foremost.”
The lifeguard shortage started in 2021 as high school and college students (the prime recruits for such positions) were unable to take guarding jobs because training programs were not offered in 2020. Ever since, the industry has been trying to play catch-up by offering higher wages and more incentives to get the necessary certification. However, the problem persists. Don’t be surprised if several communities open the 2023 summer pool season with stricter policies and stronger security in place. If they open at all.