By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer
As summer approaches, city workers know, in carefully landscaped areas and well-manicured parks, graffiti will bloom. Buildings will be “tagged” and playground equipment will be etched, painted and defaced.
P.J. Odegard, administrative assistant with the Clovis Parks and Recreation Department, said spring and summer bring an onslaught of new vandalism to buildings, playground equipment, picnic tables and trash barrels.
Odegard said city workers file a police report for each incident they encounter before they clean, repair or cover up graffiti and other damage. The wanton destruction is an unnecessary bane for work crews who labor to keep parks and recreational areas pleasant and serviceable, she said.
“It takes away from the crews being able to do their daily duties. They are very frustrated,” she said. “The city has spent the money on park equipment to offer it to the children in Clovis, and it’s disrespected.”
Joe Thomas, Clovis city manager, said that vandalism, more specifically graffiti, is a constant problem. “Most of what we see is the graffiti — that’s the biggest issue,” he said.
City personnel are the ones who end up cleaning up and correcting the damage, he said, which inevitably comes back to the taxpayers.
“Any time it occurs, it’s a cost to you and me as taxpayers,” he said.
Often private property is defaced by graffiti. While everybody can see the damage, Thomas said, clean-up has to be done by the owner or with the owner’s permission.
“I would like to do something that would end all graffiti and vandalism, but it’s just not feasible,” he said. “It’s going to occur, and we have to deal with it as efficiently and effectively as we can.”
More than 1,300 cases of vandalism occurred in Clovis in 2005 — an average of almost four daily — according to statistics from the Clovis Police Department released Wednesday. Vandalism in Clovis has increased since 2003 and by 2005 was up by 86 cases.
Lt. Jim Schoeffel, Clovis police public information officer, said vandalism often is associated with juvenile activity, and more incidents occur when the weather is nice and school is out.
On the whole, Schoeffel said vandalism is a constant issue for his department.
Vandalism statistics can stem from a variety of different incidents, he said, with the more juvenile-related cases being broken windows, eggings, graffiti and keying cars. Vandalism is also a charge that often accompanies other crimes where damage results, such as breaking and entering cases.
Graffiti, Schoeffel said, needs to be covered up as quickly as possible. Often graffiti is the way gangs communicate with each other, he said, and a message might indicate rivalries, a territory takeover or challenges to local gang members. By covering up graviti as quickly as possible, some gang activity can be stunted, he said.
According to Schoeffel, there has been discussion within the police department about getting a community clean-up effort under way, but support of local residents is needed. Because the police department lacks the funds and personnel to combat the clean-up alone, he said, it would take a volunteer force of community partners to tackle the issue.
“Graffiti is not a just a police problem,” he said. “It’s a community problem.”