May 29, 2010 in Washington Voices

An eye out for vandalism

Fairfield adds cameras to curb park damage
By The Spokesman-Review
J. BART RAYNIAK photo Fairfield public works Director Travis Glidewell inspects torn siding on the well house in Theil Park. The city recently installed $5,600 worth of surveilance cameras to help curb vandalism in the popular park.
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Fed up with ongoing vandalism problems in Thiel Park, the Fairfield City Council voted last month to dip into the budget and pay $5,600 for a video surveillance system for the park. Since the cameras went up two weeks ago, not a single incident has occurred, said public works director Travis Glidewell.

“We kind of had to” install the cameras, Glidewell said this week as he surveyed the damage caused by vandals previously. Graffiti is all over. Some teenagers used farm equipment parts as throwing stars, punching holes in the siding of the well house and gouging the wooden door. “They tore it up pretty good,” Glidewell said.

The teens who damaged the well house were among the few caught. “They were turned in by someone who was down there,” he said. “They weren’t the main perpetrators.” In most of the incidents no arrests have been made. City workers have a good idea of who the vandals are, but there was never any proof of who did the destruction, often in the middle of the night.

Graffiti is only the beginning of the problem. Someone climbed up on the roof of the picnic shelter and tore roofing tiles off. Frequently city workers would find feces outside the bathroom doors or smeared on the walls inside the bathroom.

“They tried to start fires on the inside of the bathroom,” Glidewell said. “More than once citizens have caught kids on the roof of the bathroom.”

The skate park hasn’t been damaged much, but a section of the main ramp is sagging and Glidewell thinks someone was using a dirt bike. “We didn’t have any evidence other than tracks,” he said. “Something had to hit that really hard.”

Glidewell doesn’t know how much money he has had to spend fixing up the park, but estimates that he would spend about two hours at the park cleaning up after each incident. Sometimes it would happen only once or twice a week, but sometimes he would have to go up to four times a week. “If it’s something obvious and intentional, we have to drop everything and come fix it,” he said.

Efforts to stop the vandals first included locking the bathrooms every night and unlocking them in the morning, which continues. A reward was offered, which apparently motivated the person who turned in the teens with homemade throwing stars.

While those efforts only made a slight dent in the vandalism incidents, installing the cameras seems to have worked. There are four cameras on a pole on top of the bathrooms with a view of every corner of the park and signs are posted warning of video surveillance. The cameras have infrared capabilities for night use and are triggered by motion detectors. The feed from the cameras is recorded on a DVR that Glidewell checks every other day.

“We haven’t had an incident yet,” he said. “I think they’re aware of them and now they’re cautious about what they do.”

The park is important to the town, which is why the council was willing to spend money to correct the problem, Glidewell said. “This is a nice park,” he said. “Fairfield prides itself on its parks. It’s a big part of this town.”

Fairfield is not the only community to find benefits in installing surveillance cameras in parks. The city of Liberty Lake installed cameras in Pavillion Park in 2004. At the time the city was also having problems with people vandalizing the bathrooms, said police chief Brian Asmus. “Since we installed those cameras we haven’t had any issues,” he said. “We have had significant success with the Pavillion Park cameras.”

Liberty Lake also recently installed an additional camera in Pavillion Park to cover the new skate park. There weren’t any incidents of vandalism occurring, Asmus said, but the camera had been promised as part of the project. The main complaints at the skate park have dealt with smoking and bad language, which Asmus calls noncriminal behavior. “We were not receiving very many calls before,” he said. “It’s more of a preventative issue for us.”

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