Vandalism a $25 Billion Dollar Problem

“Vandals hit signs in Rainsville” “Vandals cut electricity and water to shelter” “Theft, Vandalism reported at Bonita Springs Church” “Teen associated with a spree of vandalism and barn fire” “Gravesite at Kuna Cemetery Vandalized” “Vandals Break Windows in Downtown San Angelo” “Vandalism, spray paint swastikas on City Hall” “Vandals cause $130,000 in damages to house” “Newport Police Find Apartment Vandalized, Spray Painted with Gang Like Phrases” “Teen arrested on suspicion of 71 acts of vandalism” “Vandals break into zoo, leave dead monkey behind” “Vandals Target Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield” “Vandals target church food pantry, ruin meat and other food” “Vandals break patrol car windows & station windows” (A sample of Google Alert results on the keyword “vandalism” over a 30-day period)

We’ve all been victims of vandalism, either directly or indirectly. According to an estimate by the 2008 NoGraf conference, graffiti—just one form of vandalism—cost US taxpayers $25 billion in private and public damages annually. Costs go up when other acts (e.g., stealing signs, tearing up infrastructure) are factored in. And that higher cost doesn’t begin to cover associated costs of vandalism:

  • Cities with blatant signs of vandalism can get bad reputations as dangerous and crime-ridden, impacting their ability to attract residents and businesses.
  • Acts of vandalism damage public and private property including patrol cars, water treatment facilities, power substations, and parks, adding non-budgeted expenses for repair and replacement.
  • Vandalism robs citizens of their security and confidence in the protection provided by public authorities.

Experts dealing with vandalism on a daily basis are quick to point out that vandalism is a true gateway crime. Gangs use graffiti and other acts to mark their territories and send messages to rivals. This kind of activity is often interconnected with organized crime, burglary, assaults and even murder.

As a gateway to graver crimes vandalism is the target of many law enforcement organizations — the goal being to take vandals off the streets and prevent more serious offenses. This is easier said than done, however. Vandalism is infrequent in nature, and highly mobile.

Though the reflex might be to increase patrols in vandalism prone areas, this is most often “closing the barn door after the criminals have left.” The obvious presence of law enforcement reduces the probability of catching vandals in the act, and pushes vandalism to other areas.

Citywide Solution

Citywide Watchbox

If patrols are not the answer, what is? What is the most cost effective solution for municipalities to tackle vandalism and efficiently use their patrols? How can the criminals be caught in the act so that they can be successfully prosecuted? The vandals must be caught, not simply discouraged.

Technology to the Rescue

Despite the ill effects of vandalism, there is a fortunate benefit. Agencies that are tackling the problem with technology have driven the price of law enforcement-grade security equipment down, making it affordable for municipalities of any size to implement this equipment and multiply their forces.

Citywide Watchboxes are a great cost effective solution for agencies to add “eyes and ears” and more efficiently use their patrols. They come complete with on-board recording, can be programmed to alert officers via email or SMS messaging, and the cameras can be configured to meet the unique application requirements.

These surveillance solutions can be monitored remotely – one person can keep track of a multiple screens, hundreds of locations, track subjects, and even issue verbal commands. If vandalism occurs, action can be taken immediately, patrols can be quickly dispatched to intervene in active scenarios, and video evidence of the crime can be captured.

RECONYX Motion Activated Covert Security Camera

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Another practical and cost effective solution is a motion activated still image solution like those created by Reconyx. These solutions utilize a passive infrared motion sensor to “wake up” when motion is sensed and then take action according to user instructions.

It can be programmed to take one shot or multiple shots, can be set up stay awake for a specified length of time after being awakened, or even send out notification via MMS or email along with a photo as attachment. This system is more practical than its video counterpart because it requires a lot less power to operate.

Investing in Your Future

Every security company is different as is their law enforcement-grade security equipment. Here are some key points to consider when planning your investment in anti-vandal technology:


  1. True Invisible Infrared: When sourcing law enforcement-grade gear for night time covert operations, find gear that utilizes IR with frequencies at 940nM or higher. This frequency is visible to the camera but completely invisible to the human eye. Standard consumer equipment with infrared illumination has a frequency of 840nM that sometimes has a red glow and is not truly invisible. This equipment is best for standard night time applications.
  2. High Speed Imagery: Most equipment provides acceptable imagery in the right circumstances, but more often than not the target activity involves a lot of movement and will have poor lighting conditions. Most cameras cannot render images well in low light or at high speed. Be sure the gear selected is properly rated for your application.
  3. Notification, Monitoring & Retrieval: Surveillance units equipped to transmit data via cellular & internet connections should provide remote notification, live monitoring and retrieval of high resolution evidence. These combined capabilities eliminate the need to physically check areas for activity, which allows staff to be more efficient and to minimize possible discovery.
  4. Provider Agnostic: Steer clear of requirements like a specific cellular provider or monthly payment for online monitoring. Gear is available that allows agencies to use almost any cellular provider without any additional monitoring fees.


  1. Strategic Background: Companies that offer state-of-the-art technology and staff with law enforcement backgrounds give agencies a double advantage: the right gear with support for using it the right way to deliver results.
  2. Demo Units: A company serious about providing the right gear should be willing to either send equipment to try out, or show up on your doorstep to demonstrate the gear.
  3. Customization: Not all scenarios are the same and not all off-the-shelf gear is right for the job. Companies should be able to provide any needed customization for on-board electronics, communication and concealment.