Police monitoring vandalism at city landmarks
by Emily Adams
SYLACAUGA – Police are increasing patrols at city landmarks after recent vandalism, particularly at Marble City Cemetery and Noble Park.

The latest incidents at the historic Fourth Street cemetery have brought damage to fencing around gravesites, littering and loitering. In addition, Police Chief Chris Carden said residents have grown accustomed to using the cemetery as a cut-through to other city streets, abusing its two roads that are not designed for constant traffic.

The cemetery, opened to the public in 1898, contains the graves of several mayors, judges, Congressman Bill Nichols, as well as two police officers killed in the line of duty – Chief Sanford Perryman and Officer Rex Sanford – along with numerous other noteworthy individuals. Many of the cemetery’s gravestones are made of Sylacauga marble and were recently restored by the Marble City Perpetual Care Committee.

“Marble City Cemetery is so important to Sylacauga,” Carden said. “It is basically a showplace of our marble, and in my opinion, is 10 acres of hallowed ground.”

To mitigate these issues, the Street Department installed “No Thru Traffic” signs at each cemetery entrance, and the city is in talks with the Perpetual Care Committee to repave the streets. Police will also be upping their efforts to protect the area.

“Unfortunately, we have to do this, because I cannot sit idly by and allow people to desecrate this important Sylacauga landmark,” Carden said. “I am asking for the community’s assistance and to report activity to us. Hopefully, we can help with the protection and preservation of this peaceful, wonderful area. If you’ve never visited the cemetery, you should. It’s a very special place.”

In addition to the cemetery, officers are again increasing patrols at Noble Park and the adjoining skate park off Alabama 21. The Parks and Recreation Department is consistently making costly repairs to the park to keep it operable, Director Jim Armstrong said. It invested $14,000 on aluminum safety fencing, and now more than a third of the fence, intended to keep small children from walking into the street, has been damaged or torn down by patrons who climb on it rather than use the appropriate gates.

“Everybody always says that we don’t have anything for young people,” Carden said. “We have something for young people here, and this is what happens to it.”

Under the park’s pavilion, lights are covered with shatterproof glass after they were repeatedly busted, and lights stay on at all hours because an automatic timer was damaged. Graffiti is seen inside the pavilion and on the various tables and park equipment. Also, bathrooms at all public parks remain locked unless a group has reserved the area as the result of broken bathroom fixtures in the past.

“I would like to keep the restrooms open, but we can’t because people tear them up,” Armstrong said. “The city bought stainless steel fixtures for the Noble Park bathrooms several years ago, but people could still tear that up, so we leave it locked.”

To help bring those responsible for these damages to justice, the police department is asking citizens to report criminal activity at these and other sites and to record suspicious activity on cell phones when possible. Videos can be sent via email to Carden at ccarden@sylacaugaal.gov or Chief Investigator Willis Whatley at wwhatley@sylacaugaal.gov.

“With the advancements in cell phone photo and video, anything can be captured at any time,” Carden said. “We will take your photo or video and make efforts to identify the people through our own skills, and then there’s the other way – our Facebook page. We will post videos or stills on our Facebook in an attempt to identify victims, witnesses or suspects so we can locate and interview them.”

The department is fond of utilizing the assistance of its more than 4,500 Facebook followers, and recently located the owner of a recovered cell phone within five minutes through the social networking website. Carden said it is “a very popular way of getting information” that will hold those responsible for crimes accountable for their actions.

Armstrong said vandalism and graffiti is an ongoing issue, not just in Noble Park, that he hopes the police efforts will address.

“I hope we can make the park a safer place so we can not worry about spending money on maintenance and we can add to it if the community will back us up and report something right when they see it. It’s their park, and it’s their taxpayer money that supports it.”

Any criminal activity at Marble City Cemetery, Noble Park or other public locations should be reported to Sylacauga Police’s non-emergency number at 256-245-4334 or report anonymously at 256-249-4716.

Contact Emily Adams at eadams@dailyhome.com.

© 2013