In 2009

Vandalism rates plummet at Colwood, Langford schools

Vandalism at schools in Colwood and Langford has dropped to a 25-year low, saving the district tens of thousands of dollars, says a report from the Sooke School District.

The cost to repair and clean schools blotted with graffiti and smashed windows came in at $10,552 in 2010. The report offers data from 2007, when the annual cost of vandalism was $48,000.

“This is rock bottom,” said secretary treasurer Dave Lockyer. “Seeing $10,000 to $12,000 (in damage) over a calendar year is really low.”

There are many variables behind vandalism, but Lockyer credits a district program where principals encouraged residents living near schools to call the police if they witnessed suspicious activity. The principals handed out fridge magnets with the RCMP phone number to help keep the request top of mind.

“We encouraged people that if they heard strange noises or saw people loitering or doing graffiti to please call the police,” Lockyer said. “We’ve got a great working relationship with communities, parents and residents around schools. It takes a community to protect these schools.”

The school district has also hired a private security company to target specific schools where vandalism has flared up. In once instance, several people thought to be living in the bush and consuming drugs near Millstream elementary kept breaking into the school.

“We kept the heat up and they went away,” Lockyer said. Millstream elementary racked up almost $4,000 in vandalism damage in 2007 and zero last year.

The decline in vandalism also coincided with Langford’s community safety program, where Langford bylaw officers patrolled on mountain bikes in the evening to keep a lid on mischief and petty vandalism. Langford canceled that program in 2010.

“The bike patrols were huge,” Lockyer remarked. “But our security guards do a good job. We’re hopeful not to see (vandalism) spike up again.”

Some of the hardest hit schools have seen a dramatic decrease in damage in the past three years. Belmont secondary alone had $10,185 in vandalism in 2007 but only $1,300 last year. Wishart elementary reported $2,770 in damage in 2007 and $124 in 2010. Nearby Dunsmuir middle school had $2,200 in damage last year – the highest in the district – but still a significant step away from $5,700 in damage in 2007.

Carl Repp, who was principal of Dunsmuir in 2006, said windows were being broken almost every weekend when he came into that school, but turned it around through better lighting and increased patrols.

Repp said that there was suspicion among staff that a small number of specific youths committed most of the damage. Lockyer said there are plenty of examples of a few people causing thousands of dollars in damage in a matter of minutes.

“Two or three kids can smash $2,000 or $3,000 worth of windows in a short time,” Lockyer said.

Dunsmuir is a prime example of a school designed without crime prevention in mind. It has too many alcoves, recessed areas and access points to the roof, Lockyer said. The district consults with police when designing new schools, as seen with Happy Valley elementary and John Stubbs Memorial.

Now principal of Belmont secondary, Repp said it’s a rare day when the high school is tagged or a window is smashed. Under a “broken windows” policy, the SD 62 facilities department removes graffiti and fixes damage immediately. “Facilities is very good and fast,” Repp said. “The kids don’t see (the damage).”

Repp also credits the culture of Belmont, which puts emphasis on giving students a sense of belonging and a stake in the welfare of the school.

Students struggling in Belmont have alternatives, Repp noted, such as Pacific Secondary or the Metchosin technical program. With more choices, fewer kids lash out and vent frustrations by damaging the building.

“If kids want to be here, you get less vandalism,” Repp said. “If you get a sense of ownership, a sense of belonging, not much comes back at the school.”

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