They steal classroom computers and tramp through children’s gardens. They spray paint slogans onto homeowners’ walls. They steal office equipment and smash gaping holes into school roofs.
Temecula has a vandalism problem.
It’s a perennial issue: back in 2006 the Temecula city council discussed what to do about tagging and damage to several cars in the area, and now a recent news piece about a rise in damage to local elementary schools is a reminder that the mischief is still with us.
Compounded by a bleak housing market, unemployment and schools that are in financial crisis already, vandalism adds to the difficulties local governments face when deciding where to put precious funds. Temecula spends thousands of dollars each month cleaning up graffiti. The school district spends about $30,000 a year repairing or replacing what vandals have stolen or destroyed.
I live near Nicolas Valley Elementary School, which has been hit by vandals many times in the seven years of my residency. I've seen garish messages spray painted along the school’s front retaining wall. The sidewalk has been tagged and sprinklers torn out. I’ve watched teenagers running on the campus roofs at night when I am out with my dogs.
I’ve seen all this, but I never called the police about it. I always thought someone else would do it, but I’m not waiting for ‘someone else’ anymore. To mind ones own business is not always the right thing to do, and I’ve decided to take a more active part in caring for my neighborhood.
Of course, schools aren’t the only victims of paint-can wielding brats. My tract has experienced more than 10 cases of tagging in the past year. A neighbor replaced his old wooden fence with an alumawood one, and within 24 hours it was covered with graffiti. What was once a point of pride overnight became an eyesore as the black paint bled right through the patch job.
Take a walk over any bridge in Temecula and you see graffiti underneath it. Businesses with their backs to the bike trail that parallel Winchester Road have been defaced. I would assume that the owners of these businesses would want the graffiti erased, but there seems to be no action being taken to clean it up. One tagger painted, “At least I’m not killing people” on a trash can. One local park’s trees had swastikas burned onto them. That’s a pretty aggressive act against an innocent tree, if you ask me.
The damage to our schools goes beyond graffiti, of course. Neighborhoods in general and parents of teens -- and dare I say it? Teen boys particularly -- need to be more vigilant.
Does your kid have paint cans in his backpack? Does he have practice doodles in his notebooks? Do you see kids on a school campus at night, on the weekends, or during vacation? Does you kid have a new computer all of a sudden? Or cash from selling said computer? Is he out all night in a city where there is literally nothing to do, which means he must be up to no good?
If a minor is arrested for tagging, his parents can be hooked for damages and fines. I wonder how many parents know this. They might pay more attention if they realized that their bank account could be drained paying restitution. Adults tag as well, and they can do jail time.
The Temecula Police Department has a program called Temecula Against Graffiti that is comprised of volunteers who go through a training process and are on the lookout for taggers. There are also automated systems that alert the police to vandalism and the taggers can be caught in flagrante delicto, so to speak.
The 24-hour hotline to report graffiti in the city is 951-240-4201.