Cities grapple with rash of vandalism in parks and public areas statewide

Maybe it’s nothing new or perhaps it’s another unsettling sign of the times. Either way, a surprising number of cities report an outbreak of incidents of vandalism at parks, beaches and other public facilities around the state. Problems in the city of Wyoming (population 8,000) prompted officials to cut hours and post this notice to the public:

Some of our parks experience vandalism which can cost parents and residents a considerable amount of money in labor and material to repair the damage. In an effort to help eliminate future problems, the parks will be closed at 10:00 pm. If you notice suspicious activity or witness someone vandalizing, call the police department at 651-462-0577.

It may go with the territory in urban areas like Minneapolis, where the park board has a $133,000 line item in the budget for removing graffiti. But suburbs like Brooklyn Park also grapple increasingly not only with vandalism but violence that led to the shutdown of a park last week that was reported on the police department’s FaceBook page.

Brooklyn Park officers observed and dispersed hundreds of juveniles from the Noble Sports Park and Kwik Trip gas station. However, while officers were able to disperse the large crowd from forming at Noble Sports Park, they gathered at Central Park. Officers monitored the crowd, and after it was observed that fights were breaking out and the crowd was becoming disorderly, they were dispersed. One juvenile was assaulted and was self transported to a local hospital. A second juvenile was hit by a vehicle and transported to a local hospital. Brooklyn Park officers, along with the assistance of Hennepin County Sheriffs deputies and a Minnesota State Patrol helicopter were able to eventually disperse the crowd from Central Park.

The across the board shutdown of restrooms in Rochester’s parks due to persistent vandalism remains a hot topic at city hall. The Post Bulletin says safety concerns drove the controversial action.

“I realize that locking restrooms is an inconvenience to park participants, but the decision was made with public health and safety as a priority,” he [Parks and Rec director Paul Widman] added.

He said hand dryers had been removed from some locations, leaving exposed wires and sharp edges, while staff and park users have found people sleeping in the restrooms during the day.

“The cleaning that needed to take place at some of the facilities was beyond the cleaning and routine maintenance that is conducted frequently by our team,” Widman said. “The drug paraphernalia, human waste and other messes we found required deep cleaning.”

Smaller cities around the state face similar issues with the destruction of public facilities. The Fairmont City Council’s frustration over repeated incidents in two parks came through loud and clear in the Sentinel’s coverage.

[Streets and parks supervisor Nick] Lardy said they’ve held off on contacting the media because they didn’t want to put it out there and give people recognition for the vandalism, but felt like it was to the point where the vandalism should be brought to the public’s attention.

He urged neighbors to keep watch together and contact the police department if they see something suspicious.

“The department puts a lot of effort into making the parks look nice for everyone who uses them. All it takes is a few rotten people to ruin it. It’s unfortunate. If it happens everyday we have to close the facility down which is unfortunate for those who use the park,” said Lardy.

Culprits have destroyed surveillance cameras set up in some cities, but Waseca intends to move up the previously planned installation of cameras by a year to this summer anyway, according to the Waseca County News.

Following [Waseca Parks Superintendent Brad] Dushaw’s presentation, Councilor Jeremy Conrath stressed the importance of “nipping this in the bud”.

“We need to nip this [vandalism problem] in the bud as soon as possible, even if we need to have signs saying you’re on camera and we will prosecute to the fullest extent of the law,” Conrath said. “We, as the city, are the victims of this crime. … I don’t care if you don’t like it. I’m tired of 99% of our residents not being able to use our bathrooms, and if it makes [the people who commit vandalism]’s life miserable, good.”

Widespread vandalism in the parks may not be the most pressing problem facing cities big and small, but it points to the larger issue of a breakdown in civil society that hits home in communities all over the state.