Rural System's

Preventing and ControllingVandalism

Whether destroying a gate to a forest or farm road with a cutting torch is vandalism or not is not worth the debate. It is trespass and destruction of property. Vandalism includes these two actions as well as moving, defacing, or defiling property. Burning of particular kinds, sometimes called vandalism, can easily be seen as arson. Acts of vandalism include littering; looting archeological sites, opening valves on tanks; gathering firewood; destroying (debarking) trees; destroying equipment or its operation, such as fire grates, garbage cans, windows, toilets, trail shelters, boats or docks, picnic tables; shooting signs and trees; dumping wastes; discoloring water; and painting rocks; blocking roads and trails; using blocked roads (especially when soil is wet); and stealing traffic counters. An elaborate debate has arisen about whether spraycan paint on structures is art of vandalism (Chalfant 1992). The distinction between vandalism "for fun," "out of ignorance," or "for profit (or cost saving)" is probably important. Theft and game poaching are occasionally included within vandalism.

Dumping garbage and construction waste problems increase, especially as a function of nearness to city and residential areas and as a function of dumping fees. The higher the fees, the greater the illegal dumping of wastes.

In 1974, as an example, the costs of vandalism in the National Forests was $7 million. In 1986, an unseen type of vandalism emerged. It was that of the radical environmentalists who were said to be fed up with litigation and lobbying, and resorted to "dirty tricks" and guerrilla activity including:

Part of the vandalism control strategy suggested within Rural System is to promote the concept that "vandalism" is much too inclusive an idea. Once adequate, the word now includes too many acts or events and thereby can slow or hamper cost-effective control efforts. The money spent on preventing dumping of urban building materials cannot effectively be spent if a major objective is controlling people who destroy forest road gates or set spite fires. We plan a committee action to name a reasonable group of major types of vandalism, then to direct action and limited funds to each type. This action, we believe, will then encourage reporting of successes in control by type.

To reduce or control vandalism, a multi-faceted, simultaneous strategy is needed. The proposed approach is clearly systems oriented and starts with objectives. These need inspection and improvement but, as a starting place, the recommendations are:

  1. To minimize vandalism events.
  2. To minimize the conspicuousness of events.
  3. To minimize the magnitude of an event.
  4. To minimize the estimated financial loss (direct).
  5. To minimize the estimated cost of cleanup or replacement of each event.
  6. To minimize the estimated number of people negatively affected by any knowledge of the event.
  7. To minimize total costs of a vandalism reduction system.

These objectives usually provide a surprising diversity of strategies for action. Each needs to be weighted. (Assign 100 as the most important objective, then others a value relative to that.) The diversity results in part from continuing debate about what is vandalism and whether the roots are historical, psychological, sociological, or in some way stimulated by the environment itself (Moser 1992).

The strategies we shall continue to study and implement as needs arise and funds become available:

Open lands for hunting, fishing, and recreation, adding information on vandalism control to the information provided to permittees

Provide opportunities for reporting vandalism

Educate: (a) why not; (b) costs; (c) disease and disadvantages; (d) fire potential; instill awareness of the bad effects and responsibility for property

Conduct tours, discussing costs of vandalism along with major topics,or entire tour to see cases of vandalism

Have membership in the area user-group pay for costs of clean-up not otherwise met (thereby encouraging information and reporting of violations)

Post boundary or ownership signs

Conduct school poster and public-speaking contests

Provide dumpster and disposal sites

Promote recycling

Encourage grinding and composting and/or a compost processing center

Close roads on which cleanup is especially difficult

Protect heavy equipment by fences or with other security

Make regular reports of vandalism including cumulative reports and positive changes in the record.

Be attuned to local, short-term dumping needs; provide options

Encourage high cost timber-hauling permits (to discourage timber trespass)

Consider the "treble damage" law (Washington) that allows landowners to collect three times the cost of litigation, cleanup, damage, or restoration from apprehended law breakers

Promote inclusion of dumping/clean-up information with all local building permits

Encourage cooperative posting (pooling the limited resources of local governments, beautification committees, and others to control costs)

Work with wildlife and other law enforcement staff

Develop a vandalism study group and a sophisticated field research crew to identify violators

Privide rifle range (as an option to random or vandal shooting)

Employ cooperative security and deputies

Offer rewards

Close land (which may have counter-intuitive results; open with a users' fee permit); open for a brief season

Charge user fees that are invested in an "insurance policy" to pay for vandalism when it occurs

Work with fire prevention and control system agencies

Provide target practice area (reducing random shooting of signs and equipment)

Use sanction signs ("off trail hikers may be fined") versus ethical appeal ("stay on paved trails and preserve the meadow") (Johnson and Swearingen 1992)

Place signs so as to reduce their destruction by shooters

Prevent high-powered rifles from being carried near high-value equipment (like microwave disks and communication facilities)

Clean up after social events or acts of vandalism immediately

Set up a free telephone line for reporting illegal activities

Seek protective legislation (legislation can have an educational effect)

Include vandalism control as part of youth or adult membership rules or pledges

Work with local governments for effective waste disposal (thus reducing illegal disposal on your area). Work on specific disposal problems such as large items (refrigerators and tires) and roofing shingles

Offer low-cost waste pick-up

Assure public reporting of convicted people. If punishment is a selected strategy, publicize it for its potential deterrence effect

Report costs of repairs and cleanup to encourage people to report violators (and discourage some)

Conduct seasonal patrols, after study of seasonal occurrence (vandalism, by type, is seasonal)

Conduct daily patrols in recreation areas

Display "presence" for deterrence

Develop GIS maps of high-probability problem areas, then intensify patrols and posting in these areas (see Paine 1971)

Get assistance from news media and editorial staff to present problems and solutions

Improve construction material to reduce ease of vandalism or reduce costs

Use alternative architectural or other designs

Carve messages into large rocks as alternatives to signs

Improve site planning

Study and implement relevant parts of the extensive literature on anti-littering behavior

Post word that names of convicted violators will be published

Block-off areas where it is easy-to-dump/costly-to-clean-up

Share effective tactics and strategies with other

When there is property vandalism, the most common strategy used is to use more rigid building materials for signs, facilities, and structures. Theft and destruction of signs and gates is commonplace. Use 6 x 8 inch posts (not 4 x 4) or scrap railroad track rails. Use large eye bolts in hanging signs and pull the base of the eye deeply into the wood. After insertion, strip bolts of their threads and bend them over. Set signs in concrete and place a steel bar in the base of the signpost, perpendicular to the post to prevent it being easily twisted out. One person suggested placing a radio transmitter in a sign so that it can be traced if stolen. (in some areas, the costs of losses are great.)

In order to predict the future needs, we plan to develop a trend (regression) analysis and seek to develop a predictive model for vandalism costs for the future.

Studies about the behavior of vandals and how to prevent and control vandalism are underway. One observation is that repeat behavior at a site is common. Anger and frustration seem to be common associates of such behavior. Older, run-down facilities are most commonly vandalized suggesting the importance of continual upkeep of facilities. Vandalism is common on damaged buildings. Continual study of these results is planned.

A functional relationship needs to be developed (a multiple regression) in which we have a sum of equations expressing each component of the objective:

Sum Wi = f (posters, past reports, brochures, distance from town, dumping fees, pick-up service, dumpster service, . . . )

A performance measure is needed. Assume that one average (value 50) event per year is normal, natural, expected and beyond control. Events in excess of this amount (which can and should be changed after 3 years of study, perhaps to 0.3 per year) are the topic of control. Change in the sum of the weighted scores per 100 dollars is the measure of system effectiveness. The need is for a near-zero score at the lowest (non-zero) cost. The graph of this score will probably be negative over time (perhaps a negative logarithm).


Once available: Managing Vandalism Parkman Center for Urban Affairs, 33 Beacon St., Boston MA 02108

Chalfant, H. 1992. No one is in control p. 3-12 in H. H. Christensen, D. R. Johnson, and M. H. Brookes (eds) Vandalism: research, prevention, and social policy. USDA For. Serv. Gen. Tech. Rpt. PNW-GTR-293, Pacific Northwest Research Station, Portland, Oregon 277 pp.

Christiansen, M. L. (N. D.) Vandalism control management for parks and recreation areas. Venture Publishing, Inc., 1640 Oxford Circle, State College, PA 16801.

Christiansen, M. L. 1983. Vandalism Control Management for Parks and Recreation Areas. University Park, PA, The Pennsylvania State University. 123pp.

Flowley, Jack, Editor. 1981. Reducing Park Vandalism. Upper Plain State Innovation Group, Bismark, ND.

Fogel, I. 1981. Six Ways to Reduce Vandalism in Parks. Nation's Cities Weekly. February 9: 7-8 In Christiansen, M. L. 1983. Vandalism Control Management for Parks and Recreation Areas. University Park, PA, The Pennsylvania State University. 123pp.

Johnson, D. R. and T. C. Swearingen. 1992. The effectiveness of selected trail side sign texts in deterring off-trail hiking at Paradise Meadow, Mount Rainer National Park, p. 103-119 in H. H. Christensen, D. R. Johnson, and M. H. Brookes (eds) Vandalism: research, prevention, and social policy. USDA For. Serv. Gen Tech. Rpt. PNW-GTR-293, Pacific Northwest Research Station, Portland Oregon 277 pp.

Munson, M. D. 1995. Crime in the forest: vandals at the gate. J. For. 93(3): 28- 30.

Paine, L.A. 1971. Accident hazard evaluation and control decisions on forested recreation sites. U.S.D.A. Forest Service Research Paper PSW-68, Pacific Southwest Forest and Range Exp. Sta., Berkeley, CA. 10 pp.

Thayer, R. E., F. W. Wagner, and K. B. Coleman. 1981. Vandalism The Menace to Leisure Resources in the 198015. National Recreation and Park Association, Arlington, VA.

See the Michigan clean forest group site for ideas.

September 14, 2004