EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

July 29, 2007

The cost of vandalism: Time, frustration and cash

The evidence is on schools and other public buildings, even on monuments memorializing the dead.



Vandals are increasingly leaving their marks on public property in communities across the Merrimack Valley. They shatter windows, spray-paint the walls of city and town buildings and smear graffiti on war memorials.



The damage is eating up tens of thousands of dollars in taxpayers' money, and taking an emotional toll - anger among neighbors and veterans groups who see the damage to parks and monuments, frustration among police who have little success catching the culprits.



The damage includes big spending in Lawrence - the city needed nearly $40,000 to fix broken windows at schools in the past year - and lesser but still frustrating wastes of money for items like missing street signs in Andover, at $100 for each sign that must be replaced.



In Haverhill, vandals have begun targeting war memorials, ruining parts of a wall at the Korean War Memorial that cost $100,000 to build and spray-painting graffiti on a granite monument for those who died in World War II.



"There's been a rash of it in the last couple weeks," said Haverhill Human Services Director Vincent Ouellette, whose department handles parks and recreation. "I don't know the reason.



"Basically, you try and fix it as fast as you can," he said. "It does cost money ... but you really can't let it stay in the condition they leave it in, or the destruction and vandalism will continue."



Making vandals pay



When five teenagers damaged parts of Greycourt Park in Methuen in May, they didn't know there would be a $1,452 bill for the damage they caused.



But a line-item cost analysis put together by the city's Department of Public Works shows how much it cost taxpayers to undo the vandalism.



Last week, that bill was sent to Lawrence Juvenile Court. The five teens, caught after a police investigation, will have to pay, to the penny, for repairs to a railing, the replacement of new bricks and the cleaning of graffiti.



"I guess that's the way you easily put a lid on it," Methuen DPW Director Raymond DiFiore said. "If someone's caught, you make them pay for it."



Earlier this month four teenage boys in Andover were ordered to do community service at the Shawsheen School after admitting to smashing garden statues, pulling up plants, emptying trash bins and burning a basketball net there.



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