Richmond police say concerns that Belle Isle has been overtaken by drinkers and rowdy teenagers, as a June 3 letter to the editor in the Richmond Times-Dispatch suggested, are overblown.
“The only thing that has been heightened this year is citizen comment and media attention,” Lt. Tim Wyatt said. “But for us, it’s status quo. The policing is normal down there.”
Data from the department’s online crime reporting system show a decrease in liquor law violations so far this year. Violations on Belle Isle dropped 56 percent in May compared with five years ago and 37.5 percent compared with last year.
There have been comparable drops in assaults and other crimes on Belle Isle.
On a recent weekend afternoon, a tour around the island by a Times-Dispatch reporter revealed countless sunbathers, waders, cyclists and fishermen, along with a handful of rock climbers and kayakers. If any were consuming alcohol, they were doing it discreetly.
Marianne Swann, a mountain biker, said she’s been coming to the park since 1992. “If anything, it’s gotten better,” she said.
She noted that litter remains an issue, but volunteer groups make regular sweeps of the island to make it more tidy.
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Wyatt said the island is patrolled on weekends by two bicycle officers. Firefighters are also typically stationed on the island during busy days.
He acknowledged that drinking on the island isn’t unheard of, but he said officers focus their enforcement efforts on troublemakers.
“If you have 1,000 people out there, you may have 100 people drinking and 10 of them causing a problem,” he said. “We focus on people causing a problem.”
He said he was surprised by the increased attention to crime on the island.
“I can understand that if you don’t have a historical perspective, it looks bad,” he said. “But no, it’s not that bad.”
I took a walk to Belle Isle the morning after Memorial Day and I was disgusted and disheartened at what I saw.
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