In less than 10 years, South Suburban Parks and Recreation District has seen more than 1,200 incidents of graffiti at its parks, trails and facilities, racking up $301,145 in damage.
It’s a difficult problem to tackle and one that isn’t going away, said Dan Scheuerman, senior park ranger for South Suburban.
“About 95 percent of this is just stupid stuff done by kids,” Scheuerman said. “I don’t know if it’s a cultural thing, but people have been doing this forever.”
With summer’s warmer weather and longer days, incidents of graffiti are likely to rise, Scheuerman said.
Highlands Ranch Metro District park ranger Kat Wentworth said she sees some sort of graffiti just about every other day. In the last year, she and her full-time staff of four have had to report at least 100 incidents to the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office.
Scheuerman has created a formula to determine the cost of graffiti removal, which sometimes has to be done on monument signs that cost $2,000.
“It depends on the surface,” he said. “If it’s paintable, it’s 50 cents a square foot, if it’s worse, it can be up to $5 a square foot.”
Often, a chemical application has to be used or a high-pressure power washer is needed, and with limited resources, it’s not easy, Scheuerman said.
Metro district park rangers carry graffiti-removal packs in their trucks every day and have been trained to use a pressure washer, sandblaster and paint-removal chemicals, Wentworth said.
“Our goal is to remove it immediately and not publicize it, because that’s what they want and we’re not going to let them win in the end,” she said.
Playground equipment requires chemical use, and because of its porous texture, new paint won’t adhere. Eventually the property that’s damaged will have to be removed and replaced, costing thousands. A new playground normally costs upward of $50,000 in equipment alone, Scheuerman said.
“Mothers with little kids don’t want to be subjected to (graffiti),” he said. “The graffiti doesn’t even make sense; a lot of times it’s profanity, (obscene) drawings or just scribbles. We try to clean it up within a day or as fast as possible.”
Keeping an eye out
South Suburban encompasses 41 square miles in Lone Tree, west Centennial, Sheridan, Littleton and other nearby communities. Although no areas are immune, the Sheridan Skate Park is hit the most, Scheuerman said.
However, the installation of three security cameras has made a big impact, he said.
“It’s been curtailing,” he said. “There used to be a point in time where you counted on getting tagged there, and now it’s different. But, a lot of times they (cameras) break. I put replacements up. People shake them or even shoot them with a BB gun, so we put them up higher. They’re worth $8,000 each, so all we can really do is move them around.”
Vandalism can take as little as 10 seconds using spray paint, markers or a pocketknife, adding to the difficulty of prevention.
Douglas County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Ron Hanavan said the community plays a big role in keeping graffiti at bay.
“The best thing we can do is to really rely heavily on the public,” he said. “Our philosophy in law is that we’re a part of the community and they are a part of us. We appreciate it when the community has eyes and ears and calls us if anyone sees something suspicious.”
Castle Rock recently had an incident in which public outreach helped the police department catch suspected vandals. A total of 14 sites were tagged, inflicting $1,000 in property damage.
A group of parents recognized their kids spray-painting a local park in surveillance video and immediately alerted the Castle Rock Police Department.
“Caring for our town is a community effort,” said Castle Rock Police Chief Jack Cauley. “We appreciate everyone who shared the videos, and we especially thank the parents who did the right thing, even though it was difficult.”
Three suspects ages 14-17 are now awaiting a court date with possible charges of criminal mischief and trespass.
Crime and punishment
Hanavan said it’s hard to pinpoint what consequences vandals will have to face. It depends on whether they’re adults or juveniles and the extent of the damage, he said.
Typically the person is charged with the crime, whether it be a felony or misdemeanor, and then, if convicted, ends up having to pay restitution for the cleanup of the public property. Sometimes juveniles may qualify for diversion and not have to go through court proceedings.
Sometimes gang-related graffiti is suspected and forwarded to the investigation division, Hanavan said.
The sheriff’s office doesn’t specifically keep track of graffiti incidents, as they’re put in the same category as criminal mischief, which includes things like breaking windows, Hanavan said.
“It’s kind of the catch-all law for damaging anyone else’s property, and those numbers are high,” he said.
“There’s no short answer to how we handle this, because it may very well be that we catch a suspect, and that suspect has actually vandalized 15 different places on top of what we caught him for.”