John Venezia park vandalized

Vandals caused an estimated $16,000 worth of damage to John Venezia Park.

On Sept. 11, staff at John Venezia Park received reports that someone had tagged politically-motivated rhetoric on benches, sidewalks, and other park property sometime that day. Immediately, maintenance supervisor John Weaver said, they put together plans to clean up the graffiti.

The next day, however, the vandal struck again, this time causing more destruction, to include water fountains ripped out of walls and several smashed lights.

In all, city officials wrote in a Sept. 17 Facebook post, the damage was estimated to cost at least $16,000.

Weaver said that while the graffiti was promptly removed, parks staff are still waiting for parts to arrive to repair other parts of the park destroyed by the vandal, which Weaver said was because some of those materials have been "harder to come by."

Weaver added the damage caused the parks department to close park restrooms — which are typically shut down for the season sometime around the end of October — over a month early.

To catch those responsible for the damage, Crime Stoppers issued a $1,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in connection to the vandalism, which they announced in a press release Sept. 23.

Robert "Hiking Bob" Falcone, a local journalist and outdoors expert, took particular exception to the vandalism. In an installment of his podcast published five days after the city’s Facebook post, Falcone described the vandalism as "sociopathic" and "horrific," and admonished anyone refraining from reporting those responsible.

"The level of sociopathy that you have to have to think that this is a good idea is just beyond me … this isn’t like hiking off trail a little bit, this is nothing like that," Falcone said in the podcast. "This is destroying a park, and destroying other people’s enjoyment of it, and to quote what we’ve heard from our parents before, 'This is why we can’t have nice things.'"

That anger, however, didn’t dissipate.

Falcone, still frustrated by what he’d heard of the destruction at the park and what it was expected to cost a month later, decided to "sweeten the pot," matching the Crime Stoppers donation to boost the reward to $2,000 on Oct. 12.

Hours after the new reward was announced, a tipster called the anonymous Crime Stoppers tip line and Colorado Springs police, providing video footage showing what the vandals were wearing at the time of the crimes and "facial details," according to the Crime Stoppers release and police statements.

That information was passed to Sgt. Gary Tedeschi, who was investigating the case. The suspect information allowed police to identify, track down, and arrest a teenager in connection to the Venezia Park vandalism, later linking them to a separate vandalism case.

Police did not identify the person arrested, saying only that they were under the age of 18. Police also would not say if the separate vandalism case was on city property.

Falcone, a local hiking expert who works with the Colorado Springs Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services department as the TOPS working committee chair and who publishes a weekly outdoors podcast on his website, said he felt he needed to take action because that type of destruction can spiral out of control if left unchecked.

"Communities degrade when people just shrug their shoulders and say 'Well, what are you going to do?' That emboldens the people who are doing these things to just keep doing it," Falcone said in a November interview with The Gazette.

"But when the community stands up and says, 'This is not acceptable, and if I know something, I’m going to tell somebody,' then the people who are doing this stuff realize, 'Maybe I’m not going to get away with this and maybe doing this is not a good idea,'" he added.

Falcone also said that being involved with the parks department meant he knows "how hard it is" to fix up city parks up after that level of destruction, which contributed to his decision up the reward.

Still, Falcone noted, the lion’s share of the credit goes to the anonymous tipster.

"The people who gave the tip — we can’t forget that they’re the heroes here, they actually gave the information to the police," Falcone said. "If just regular citizens get involved in some manner, they can hopefully get the word out there that if you're going to go out and do something like this, that somebody's going to see you and somebody's going to say something."

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