Bainbridge parks have become the host to an unfortunate rise in graffiti and costly acts of vandalism.
For Park Services Director Dan Hamlin, enough is enough.
In the past, parks handled vandalism with a sort of “honor system” approach. Park officials used to try to work out a way for vandals to pay for the damages without involving the police.
But not anymore.
“We’d talk with the people involved and work out some kind of arrangement,” Hamlin said. “But now because we’ve had so many of them, our approach is that the police are going to file the report, it’s going to the prosecutor and we’re going to wait to hear from the prosecutor on restitution and what they’re going to hand out to the folks committing the crimes.
“We’ve actually kept people from going through the legal ramifications of their actions in the past. That’s the part that’s different now,” Hamlin said.
The crackdown comes after a partnership was formed between parks and the Bainbridge Island Police Department. It followed a rash of vulgar graffiti and off-roading incidents at Battle Point and Rotary parks.
Hamlin said people caught off-roading often regarded the restitution costs as the price of a good time.
“In a meeting we had with the police department, they said it’s a sort of ‘pay to play’ mentality. Go out here and do the damage and if you get caught, you just pay up and you’re good,” Hamlin said.
In addition to the deep ruts caused by off-roading, parks have also been experiencing a rise in graffiti.
The content of the graffiti can range from hate speech to juvenile vulgarities and occasionally even a political endorsement. Recently a group of kids thought it would be funny to write, “Trump, make America great again” on the water tower. (They were caught.)
A few of the more prolific vandals are proving to be quite the nuisance for the park district. One elusive miscreant known as the “sham-tagger” has also become especially annoying for the park officials.
“We get him down at Blakely a lot. We’ve seen it over at the Strawberry Hill skatepark, he just goes everywhere and paints the word ‘sham’ right over signs, on rocks, on logs, on buildings,” Hamlin said.
“The police have a lot of information about him and it would probably be good for him to just stop, because when he gets caught, there’s a whole lot of cases tied back to him.”
In addition to paying restitution, vandals face a ban from parks that can run from six months to a year.
Hamlin urged young folks on Bainbridge to consider the impacts of their actions, both on park facilities and themselves.
“There are people out there who might do something because they don’t think the consequences are quite so serious, so they make a bad decision. This is that transition where that bad decision could cost them a blemish on their record,” Hamlin said.
“Make the right decision. These things can stick with you for a long time and they don’t need to,” he added.