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Vandalism prompts Sylva to mount security cameras in parks

Persistent vandals have pushed Sylva decision-makers to ramp up the town’s surveillance program.

 

Coming soon to two Sylva parks are several new security cameras. Both Bryson and Poteet parks have suffered a rash of vandalism, from smashed bathroom sinks to graffiti.

 

Town Public Works Director Dan Schaeffer hopes the installation of the three cameras, two in Bryson Park and one in Poteet, will deter further destruction. He also hopes it point law enforcement in the right direction to catch those responsible — so far, the police don’t have suspects in even the most egregious cases of vandalism. 

“I don’t know what else to do,” Schaeffer said. “At least we can see who’s there.”

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The Bryson Park bathrooms recently re-opened after being closed for more than a month after the bathrooms were destroyed in early June. More than $1,000 in damage was caused — holes were punched in the walls, stall dividers were torn down, and toilets smashed. The town even offered a $100 reward to catch the culprit, or culprits, but without success.

That incident was only one of many during recent years. 

The Poteet Park bathrooms have also been the target of vandals. Schaeffer said the steady barrage of damage has forced him to forego replacing items such as stall partitions and to cover the bathroom dry wall with panels of plywood to protect it.

While the town has part-time park staff, and the bathrooms are usually locked in the evening, it is not enough to stop the perpetrators.

The town will spend $12,000 on the cameras. Schaeffer believes it will pay for itself before long. He would have liked them sooner, but the town’s budget has been tight.

“I think the board just realized we can keep spending money repairing, or we can get the cameras,” Schaeffer said.

The board voted unanimously at its last meeting to purchase the cameras.

Parks are particularly vulnerable to vandalism, and no town it seems is without its share. In Waynesville, repeated vandalism of some outdoor park restrooms culminated with arson, forcing the restrooms to be shuttered indefinitely. The Waynesville recreation center even had a break-in two years ago where vandalism occurred throughout the building. In Bryson City, the old N.C. 288 park is paid routine visits by vandals who do damage with everything from spray paint cans to shot guns.

In Sylva, the town park cameras will forge new territory in the area of town surveillance.

But Sylva Mayor Maurice Moody says any “Big Brother” concerns are misplaced.

“I’m not concerned about privacy issues in a public park,” Moody said. “If you don’t want to be observed — don’t be in the park.”

The bulk of the town’s vandalism is concentrated in those two parks, said Police Chief David Woodard. And soon, most of what happens in those parks will be piped directly into the police station.

In a best-case scenario the cameras will deter the destruction of public property. But if not, they may provide the a lead to identify the culprits. 

“I’d like to catch somebody doing it really,” Woodard said. But without video footage or forthcoming witnesses, it has been hard to create a lead, although Woodard suspects it is misdirected youth. “There are just so many kids, and the parks are utilized so much it’s hard to nail it down.”

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