It’s a quality of life issue — one that is visible and jarring to those affected — and Oakdale is under assault by those who have little reason to care.
The issue is vandalism, which can run the gamut from graffiti and gang tagging, to broken windows and damaged sprinkler heads. Vandalism in all forms is a costly drain on a city whose resources are already stretched to the breaking point.
Recently, Public Works contracted with Escalon based Swift Lawn and Garden to service the Burchell Hill Lighting and Landscape District (LLD), which maintains the parks in the subdivision. The landscaping company will be submitting monthly reports of damages repaired within the LLD sphere of influence because the previous company didn’t provide enough detail on the damages. In August, 71 sprinklers were replaced that were either damaged or kicked-off, necessitating replacement.
At $10 each, replacing the sprinkler heads doesn’t seem a heavy cost — until you add up the ripple costs associated with the replacements.
“Sure, they only cost $10 apiece but the biggest cost is the time and labor to replace them,” said Anthony Smith, Public Works analyst.
Bridle Ridge, The Vineyards, and Sunset Meadows subdivisions are also in the process of finding new contractors for park maintenance due to increased need for detailed reporting.
Incidents of vandalism were so prevalent in the Burchell Hill parks — ranging from gang tagging to burning the park benches — that the homeowners petitioned the city to change the park hours.
Mike Hancock, the Team Leader for the volunteer TAG (Team-up Against Graffiti) program and Burchell Hill resident, said they’ve had 10 to 15 sprinklers broken along the path, along with doggie stations burned and lighting intentionally damaged by vandals.
“It’s been awful,” Hancock said. “It comes right out of our pocket. We had slides damaged in our park and it cost us thousands of dollars. Playground equipment was broken. Public Works came in and threw away the pieces. We’ve had thousands of dollars of damage up here which is why we had the (park) hours changed because we just can’t afford it.”
The culprits were mainly identified as juveniles lacking any supervision in the home.
“It’s a nice place to stop,” Hancock said of the Burchell Hill park. “We have really struggled. The Burchell Hill park is the only one with different hours. It’s closed a half hour after sunset and opens a half hour before sunrise because the vandalism was happening at night. It was a very hard decision to do this but we didn’t have a choice.”
In a LLD maintained subdivision the residents share the burden of the repairs, which has become pricey for the residents.
“If the parks aren’t in an LLD, they just don’t get fixed. This is all vandalism. The kids are jumping up and down on them and vandalizing them. The city has had wires stripped out of the trails, which is very expensive to fix. The total disregard for property astounds me.”
Sgt. Kerri Redd confirmed vandalism was on the rise, saying, “Sometimes it’s overwhelming and we can’t keep up.”
The City of Oakdale contributes $2,000 from the general fund to pay for paintbrushes and other materials used by the volunteers in the TAG program as they try and clean up the graffiti blighting the city but equating the cost is more involved than a line item in the budget. Paint companies using recycled paints donate paint supplies.
Sgt. Redd explained, using the example of a case earlier in the year where a window was shattered.
“The call came in at 10:05 a.m.; the officer was dispatched at 10:06 a.m. and he arrived at the address at 10:12 a.m. He didn’t clear the call until 10:45 a.m. because he spent the time to talk to neighbors to see if anyone saw anything. The cost of the window was $500 but it’s not just the cost of the window that’s involved. There’s a ripple effect. Because that officer was spending his time taking the vandalism call, it took him or her away from patrol or handling previous cases. The officer still has to write the report, the sergeant has to approve it. So when he was cleared at 10:45 a.m. that didn’t stop the report process.”
In 2008 between January to Sept. 1, there were 275 incidents of vandalism reported (this can encompass a wide range of vandalism types); in 2009: 250 incidents; in 2010: 292 incidents; and thus far during the same time period for 2011 there have been 298 incidents reported.
However, Redd cautioned, that number could actually be higher as the officers have started logging gang graffiti under a separate category, which would not typically come up in a search unless specific parameters were included.
Hancock said they’ve removed 97 incidents of tagging since July.
“It’s an ongoing level of graffiti,” Hancock said. “About 30 or more incidents a month. What we’re seeing now is a lot more gang graffiti. It went from 80 percent kids tagging to 90 percent gang graffiti. In some respects, it’s gotten worse.”
According to Hancock, the gangs tag large areas, such as sides of buildings or brick buildings, which are very costly to clean.
A troubling aspect on the ongoing fight against vandalism is community apathy created by repeated exposure.
“You see the same locations getting tagged over and over and at some point people get desensitized to it. It’s part of what happens with the increase of incidents. And then people get frustrated and ask ‘What’s the point?’ of taking it down when it’s just going to go back up,” Sgt. Redd said.
The city is lucky to have the TAG program, too, which helps the community bear the load of cleaning up the vandalism.
“It’s the homeowner and business owner’s responsibility to remove the graffiti within 48 hours,” Sgt. Redd said. “We’re lucky to have volunteers who are willing to do this. What would Oakdale look like without these volunteers?”
For more information on the TAG program, call 209-847-2231.