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Under attack

Vandalism a constant presence that the community tries to keep in check

By: Scott Hayes

  |  Posted: Saturday, Jan 25, 2014 06:00 am

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  • TAGGED – Graffiti marks the Ray Gibbon Drive bridge.
    TAGGED – Graffiti marks the Ray Gibbon Drive bridge.
    Supplied photo
  • TARGETED – The BLESS shelter at Big Lake was the target of vandals last summer.
    TARGETED – The BLESS shelter at Big Lake was the target of vandals last summer.
  • BELEAGUERED BENCH – This bench honouring former resident John Samson has been vandalized repeatedly since it was installed last June.
    BELEAGUERED BENCH – This bench honouring former resident John Samson has been vandalized repeatedly since it was installed last June.
  • FREQUENT TARGET – This window at Grandin Theatres has been boarded up for months. It's been broken many times in recent years.
    FREQUENT TARGET – This window at Grandin Theatres has been boarded up for months. It's been broken many times in recent years.

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To some, vandalism isn't a big problem in St. Albert, yet there is evidence of this destructive act all around – from spray paint graffiti on a concrete wall to a broken fence board.

Reporter Scott Hayes looks at the issue in a two-part series. Part one takes a look at the personal impact of vandalism and the people who are trying to prevent it. Part two, focusing on graffiti, will appear Saturday, Feb. 1.

Liz Samson has one thing to say to vandals.

“It’s a great pain. It’s a crime. It does cost the public money, but it’s very wounding as well.”

Last June Samson had a memorial bench installed in a city park to honour her late husband. She originally chose one spot and the concrete had been poured for the foundation but the concrete was soon vandalized. So she chose a different site, trying to avoid vandalism. The same thing happened there too.

The bench is now located in a spot that is away from the trail system, but it has been vandalized many times, she said.

“It was vandalized with graffiti. The next time paint was poured on it. Another time holes were burned into it,” she said.

Every time, she had the RCMP come out to inspect the damage and the city’s public works department repaired it. There is still some graffiti on the back of the bench. Samson has decided to let it stand. She fears that it’s a losing battle against a larger foe.

“If we leave it there, you can’t put any more on the canvas,” she proposed. “The police told me that … they know it’s a gang of about 40. They know the signature but they don’t know who within the group is doing it.”

In a letter to the editor to the Gazette, published on Sept. 7 last year, she said the bench is a spiritual place for her and she likened the vandalism to a physical assault on her husband.

“That is how you feel, that he’s being insulted. He’s being attacked. I’ve been attacked. His memory has been desecrated.”

Ongoing efforts

St. Albert, like any city, is no stranger to vandalism, but police say the prevalence of incidents is relatively low.

“We’re not excluded out of it but I think overall St. Albert has a low rate of vandalism and mischief,” said Const. M-J Burroughs of the crime prevention, victim services and community policing units of the local RCMP detachment.

“St. Albert’s citizens work really well with the police. We have lots of people reporting vandalism.”

Vandalism is considered a problem that increases with population, Burroughs said, but the issue hasn’t gotten worse in St. Albert despite the city growing by approximately 50,000 people since 1971.

St. Albert has seen numerous efforts to rein in vandalism over the years. For the four years from 2005 to 2009, the city’s Task Force on Vandalism and Youth Issues sought ways to prevent and reduce the impact of vandalism on the community. It pushed for block parties and a curfew, only the former gaining acceptance.

The St. Albert Citizen’s Patrol has always been a big proponent of these localized community gatherings.

“Crime preys on apathy,” says its website at www.citizenspatrol.org.

“It’s one of the ways that we try and encourage neighbours to talk to each other and get to know each other,” said Brian Andersen, the group’s president.

He first got involved in the program when his neighbourhood experienced a “big rash” of vandalism. A group of residents created a community effort to find solutions.

Another community effort, the Neighbourhood Watch Association, provides an avenue for citizens to keep an eye out for wrongdoing. President Dale Fetterly (who is also involved with the Citizen’s Patrol) even recently developed a wireless app called the Disorder Reporter (found on its website at www.eyewatch.info) to help people report vandalism and other problems.

The association, he said, is “basically an educational program where we try to teach people what to do to protect themselves so that they don’t become a victim of crime and teach them what to do if they see something suspicious.”

He too is convinced that things are pretty quiet here in this city.

“We’re lucky because there isn’t a lot. About the worst thing we get is people carving their initials in public benches and things like that,” he said, careful not to suggest that crime prevention is out of people’s control.

“I shouldn’t say that it’s all luck. Part of it might be because we are out there – not to catch people but to deter them. It’s hard to measure things that don’t happen. It may well be that programs such as Citizen’s Patrol and Neighbourhood Watch are part of the reason that we have a lower crime rate in St. Albert.

“We compare ourselves to the marked police car driving down the street,” Andersen continued. “If there are would-be vandals in the neighbourhood, they’re going to see us and hopefully not stick around or not do what they were going to do.”

The patrol runs on volunteer energy and grassroots fundraising efforts. It’s a low-key and low-tech effort. Andersen eschews new fangled defences like video cameras, which might do a fine job of catching people in the act but they still don’t stop anything.

“I’m big on technology … but they’re not necessarily a great deterrent. Besides, not everyone wants to spend $1,000 on a system like that.”

Instead, he suggests spending a few minutes every day to hide any valuables, lock all doors, and turn on outside lights.

The eyes of the law

The community standards bylaw (found at www.stalbert.ca/bylaws) states that residents and business owners can face a fine for not removing graffiti in a timely manner. People are even encouraged to call 911 if they witness graffiti or vandalism in progress, and to call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS to provide anonymous information about the culprits.

Graffiti, according to the bylaw, means “any images or lettering scratched, scrawled, painted or marked in any manner on property without the consent of the property owner.”

Anyone found to contravene the bylaw can face a fine up to $1,000 for causing or permitting a nuisance on land or building owned or occupied. Failure to clean up graffiti in a prompt manner can result in a $2,000 penalty.

The cost for non-compliance in Edmonton is $250.

The city has produced a leaflet called Wiping Out Graffiti that promotes a mantra of Record-Report-Remove. It states that graffiti is a serious crime that affects all residents, mostly for financial reasons. Apart from the actual damage and the cost of repairs, there’s the devaluing of property that can have an even more far-reaching effect.

The leaflet also puts plain that graffiti leads to more graffiti as well as other “more serious vandalism” and other crimes. Removing graffiti immediately, it continues, affords a much better chance of nipping the problem in the bud.

“A quick response is key,” the publication states.

The first step is to record. Take a picture of the graffiti and include the date, time and location of it.

Then report it to the RCMP by calling the local detachment at 780-458-7700. They also ask that you drop off the photo at the detachment at 96 Bellerose Dr.

A partnership with a local paint store, Dulux Paints, is meant to make the removal process as painless as possible. The store, located at 13 Inglewood Dr., has free kits, each containing a tip sheet and a 13-piece roller set. It also offers a discount on other supplies including paint.

If you find graffiti or vandalism on public property, the city asks that you call its public works department at 780-459-1557. For more information, please contact the city’s Family and Community Support Services at 780-459-1756.


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