Parks: security cameras aren’t the answer
EVERETT - People, not security cameras, will help discourage destruction of property at city parks.
The day after an act of arson left the playground at Garfield Park partially in tatters, children wrote a message in chalk to the city on the pathway leading up to the park: “Save Our Parks.”
The City Council heard the plea and last week was briefed on vandalism prevention methods used by the parks and recreation department, which includes security cameras and park rangers.
Ultimately, though, money shouldn’t be pushed toward increasing vandalism prevention methods, parks and recreation director Paul Kaftanski said.
Councilwoman Brenda Stonecipher agreed. She said after Kaftanski’s presentation that encouraging family and neighborhood gatherings in parks would be a better use of energy than investing in more solutions like security cameras.
“(The use of cameras) make us all feel good in the short term, but it doesn’t really have an effect on the crime,” Stonecipher said. “It gives a false sense to the elected officials that something is being done about crime. I think it would make more of an impact to pull people into the parks with families and friends and hand out popsicles to everybody.”
Holding more events in city parks may be the best way for the city to reduce vandalism in them, Kaftanski said. The second annual Family Fun Night at Clark Park is coming up soon.
“We want people to become more involved,” Kaftanski said.
Destruction of park property has become an issue in Everett, costing the city money as well as taking away play equipment from kids in the community.
“All of us are indignant, mad, frustrated and disappointed that people would destroy a child’s spirit with such a senseless and costly act,” Kaftanski said of the Garfield Park arson.
Someone set fire to the playground equipment in May, and it cost the city $55,000 to replace the destroyed equipment. Though costly, Kaftanski expressed gratitude to the city for choosing to replace the equipment.
“That saved the summer for the kids in the Riverside Neighborhood,” he said.
To illustrate the financial impact that vandalism has on the city, Kaftanski compared the situation to shoplifting in the private sector.
“Shoplifting represents a major economic cost in the private sector,” he said. “The national estimate is eight-tenths of 1 percent of annual sales, or $35 billion per year. If the (city’s) general fund represents the total fund, that loss for us would be $72,000 per year, which is generally in line with the cost to mitigate the destruction caused by vandalism in our parks.”
Other than increasing events and attendance within the parks system, a concerted effort between law enforcement and the parks department is required to tackle the problem of vandalism, Kaftanski said.
“There is no miracle cure,” he said. “I’d rather take money and invest it in preventative initiatives that show progress and impacts in reducing acts of vandalism, but I’m just the parks and recreation department and this issue is larger than just my department. I want to be careful about saying how much we should spend on cameras and rangers or adding another security tool because it is questionable the possible payback at the end of the day. Working with our partners (in law enforcement and residents) gives us the best bang for our buck.”
The city has 42 parks totaling about 30 square miles.
The city has five solar-powered security cameras in some of its parks. The first two were purchased in 2012, and the other three this year.
The cameras are rotated throughout the park system to protect more secluded parking lots like the one at Howarth Park in addition to responding to acts of vandalism like the one at Garfield Park.
Kaftanski cited a study done in the late 2000s that questioned camera effectiveness of reducing crime in parks. The study suggested that because the camera footage isn’t monitored in real time, the cameras may be considered ineffective.
Following the presentation, Councilman Scott Bader suggested a response to this claim: “What about broadcasting park cameras to the web? It’s just a thought to throw out there.”
The city doesn’t announce where the cameras are moving to or disclose where they currently are in order to discourage criminals from misusing the information.
The parks department is considering, however, installing signs in parks that advise park users that they may be under video surveillance.
Kaftanski advised park users that despite possible surveillance in remote parking areas such as in Howarth Park, there are steps that should be taken to reduce vehicle prowling.
“It’s not helpful for our customers having someone watch them relocate their personal property to a trunk before leaving their vehicle,” Kaftanski said. “Better it be done prior to arriving, denying a thief valuable sight-based information.”
Costly acts of vandalism include spray painting, or “tagging” on park equipment, dumping household trash in park trash cans, creating divots in lawns from metal detecting, throwing rocks through windows of buildings or park vehicles, and illegal camping in parks where the campers leave trash behind.
“To me, this is similar to throwing trash on a public sidewalk instead of in a trash can,” Kaftanski said.
Equipment that is vandalized includes “Big Belly” trash cans, of which the city has more than 40, park benches (more than 80), informational kiosks (more than 20), retaining walls and tree stumps.
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