Vandals!

If it isn’t one thing, it’s another. While the Minot Park District’s maintenance department is still coping with its flood repairs and seasonal upkeep, vandalism is fast becoming a headache for department supervisor Brian Mathson.

“It’s always been a problem,” he says. While vandalism in the Minot area is mostly graffiti-related, there are instances of breaking and entering, arson, and even vehicular theft. While nothing new, a number of high-profile acts of destruction this past year have added to the district’s woes.

“It’s hard to put a cost on it,” Mathson says, once one figures in diverted labor. His estimate for damage done to park property last year hovers around $45,000. Vandalism cannot be planned for, so repair costs have to come out of the department’s buildings and grounds budget, or else from diverted funding for other projects. If no money can be found to undo the damage, that amenity becomes unavailable for everybody.

“It has become a significant problem,” said Steve Wharton, the city’s horticulturist. “It’s a very expensive problem, very time-consuming. It’s very frustrating to us.”

“The graffiti kills me though,” Mathson complained. “The skatepark is an ongoing thing,” getting periodically tagged with spraypaint. Because paint is relatively inexpensive and easily acquired, graffiti often finds its way onto all sorts of walls and surfaces. A list Mathson compiled of places affected within the park district last year included the public toilets at Oak, Hammond, and Leach parks; multiple instances at the skateparks at Roosevelt and Polaris parks; facilities at Camp Owetti; and the water slide at the Splash Pad.

The water slide has been a particular problem to fix. The slow process of soda blasting and chemically removing the black paint is still ongoing, with asinine scribbles running up along the inside pipe and some on its exterior. The damage will end up costing around $5,000 to fix, while also diverting manpower from other recovery projects.

More than just graffiti, restrooms are also the targets of arson, with firebugs occasionally setting the garbage cans inside alight. Arson does not happen often, but when it does can be quite destructive. Last October, the playground equipment at Riverside Park was doused in gas and torched, the costs of which are estimated at around $20,000. In an unrelated crime, a picnic table near Camp Owetti was also set ablaze last year.

Picnic tables are also a common target for the ill-disposed to paint, Sharpie, or otherwise carve into their surfaces any number of sentiments. Due to a combination of flood damage and generally poor condition, the park district purchased 40 new tables at around $10,000.

“And that’s just for the material to build them,” Mathson explained. Several maintenance employees will have to spend a number of hours putting them together and install them around the various parks. But the fairly regular repairs needed to upkeep them will be largely vandalism-related, repainting, resurfacing, or otherwise replacing them.

Prevention is problematic. “Lighting is a big issue,” Mathson has found, citing the problems his department has had with Roosevelt Park since the 2011 flood. Without power or regular use the grounds have become a sort of haven for ne’re-do-wells after dark.

In the instance of the water slide’s vandalizing, the one or more perpetrators simply climbed the fence surrounding the swimming area. “We can’t put barbed wire on them,” Mathson said. “Though I’d like to,” he added unenthusiastically.

The district does make use of some cameras around the Roosevelt Park area, but the systems are fairly basic, unable to see more than blobs at night and with inadequate resolution to definitely identify suspected vandals. Better cameras would be considerably more expensive, and their effectiveness in preventing such crimes is questionable. In any case, “there are only so many cameras you can put up,” Mathson said.

According to Sergeant Larry Haug with the Minot Police Department, in all the problem is pretty normal. “When the weather warms up it almost invariably goes up,” he explained. Following up on vandalism cases depends a great deal on leads for police to go on, which generally means residents keeping an eye out for mischief and reporting any suspicious activity to the proper authorities.

“Sometimes there’s not much you can do to prevent that sort of thing,” Haug admits. To report any such activity, residents ought to call either the police department at 852-0111, or else its Crime Stoppers hotline at 852-7463.