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Security cameras costing $450,000 sought since vandals and thieves hit new Colorado Springs park

August 10, 2017 Updated: August 11, 2017 at 7:55 pm
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Colorado Springs Park and Rec workers Rico Barela, left, and Dominic Archuleta install skate stops Thursday, June 6, 2017, on the benches at the City of Colorado Spring's newest park, John Venezia Community Park, at the corner of Briargate Parkway and Union Blvd.. The grand opening of the ranch-themed park will be Saturday. The park will feature three large pavilions, three multi-use artificial turf fields, one in-line hockey rink, one basketball court, six tennis courts and four pickle ball courts. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

Before the gates even opened July 8 at John Venezia Community Park, the city's first new park in 12 years, yellow hammer and sickle and red anarchy signs had been smeared across the park's buildings.

Construction workers arrived some mornings to find their equipment vandalized or stolen, lights stripped of their copper and merciless spray-painting across many of the park's yet-to-be-used amenities, said Kurt Schroeder, park maintenance and operations manager.

The ranch-themed park near Briargate Parkway and North Union Boulevard has hardly been open a month, and the vandals have yet to let up, Schroeder said. They've hit the park "significantly" about six times. So Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services is asking the City Council to fast-track a $450,000 appropriation for security cameras to curtail the problem.

"When you've got something brand new like this and before it's even open people are hitting it, it's really disappointing," Schroeder said. "If you've been up there, it's a fantastic facility. And if this has started already, it usually won't stop."

Vandalism at Venezia Community Park (Photo provided by Kurt Schroeder) 

The park was even hit the night before its July 8 debut, Schroeder said. The next morning, Parks employees scrambled to cover the damage before the public arrived to scope out the city's $13 million investment.

The park has sustained about $80,000 in damage to date, said Parks Director Karen Palus.

Tuesday, Councilman Don Knight said he and other members of the city's budget committee support drafting an emergency ordinance for the money.

Council President Richard Skorman and Councilman Andy Pico also expressed support. But Pico said the problem isn't limited to Venezia Park.

In the heart of Old Colorado City, Bancroft Park's 82-year-old band shell was damaged by a fire reportedly set by vagrants trying to keep warm in January.

Most city parks are vandalized from time to time, Schroeder said, but the crime typically ebbs and flows. At Venezia Park, it has yet to let up.

Vandalism at Venezia Community Park (Photo provided by Kurt Schroeder) 

Though the damage is costly to fix and prevent, police are spread too thin already to dedicate officers to the problem, Schroeder said.

Lt. Howard Black, police spokesman, said the Venezia vandalism was news to him, but it's unlikely officers will be assigned to the park.

That's not to say police won't keep an eye on the area, though.

Palus said she's asked off-duty officers to stand watch at Venezia Park from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. daily. Those officers are paid according to their rank and experience. If the overnight shifts continue through November, it could cost Parks about $150,000, she said.

Schroeder said many on-duty officers also head to city parks when they're available or have paperwork to complete. That might deter vandals, too.

"Just their presence really helps," he said. "We really appreciate their support and being visible."

The council must approve the money for security cameras, and that vote could come Aug. 22, Knight said. If approved, the money could be released to the department three weeks later.

Schroeder said Parks is working with the city's Information Technology Department to find out precisely what is needed. Cameras could be up at Venezia Park by the fall, he said.

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