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Connecticut police department will use drones in parks to make sure visitors practice social distancing

The DOT flew a Align Drone from Exponent Technologies, to inspect the Gold Star Bridge over the Thames River, on Tuesday. The goal is to see if new technology helps inspectors get at hard-to-see areas that currently require ropes, climbers or lifts, snooper trucks and heavy equipment. (Lauren Schneiderman / Hartford Courant/TNS)

One police department in Connecticut plans to use drones to monitor its parks and trails to make sure visitors adhere to social distancing guidelines meant to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“The Meriden Police Department will begin utilizing new drone technology to closely monitor our trails and parks as they become more heavily utilized during the warmer and nicer days ahead,” Meriden Mayor Kevin Scarpati said, in a Facebook post Monday.

It’s an issue the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection is grappling with too. Several state parks have been closed after they reached capacity as residents looked to do something to escape from their homes. People who park outside the gates after a park has reached capacity and walk in could be subject to fines or arrest, the DEEP has said.

On April 5, Kent Falls State Park and Seaside State Park were ordered closed for the remainder of the public health emergency “due to challenges visitors faced maintaining appropriate social distancing,” according to the DEEP website. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people keep a distance of at least 6 feet from one another.

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Cities and towns have taken their own steps to discourage gatherings in parks and other areas, including cordoning off playscapes and cutting down basketball nets. In South Windsor, officials dumped sand on the town’s skate park after skateboarders continued to gather there after they had been told not too.

In most cases, cities and towns say police who come upon groups in violation of social distancing rules use it as an opportunity to educate and issue a warning.

But Stratford Mayor Laura Hoydick said last week that social distance violators in her town could face a fine of $100.

“We need to make it understood that we are very serious about enforcing the governor’s executive orders at our public facilities, and those who disobey will be cited,” she said.

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© 2020 The Hartford Courant