Schenectady County

Cameras stymie vandals in Vale Cemetery

Cameras may not be stopping shooters on the city streets, but the petty vandals at Vale Cemetery hav
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Cameras may not be stopping shooters on the city streets, but the petty vandals at Vale Cemetery have been stopped in their tracks.

For eight months, no one has knocked over a tombstone at the cemetery. No one has sprayed graffiti on the marble mausoleums. Not one act of vandalism has occurred, said Bernie McEvoy, president of the Vale Cemetery Board of Trustees.

“I think it’s the cameras. Of course it’s the cameras,” he said.

The cemetery unveiled three surveillance cameras last fall, along with signs warning visitors that they are being watched. The vandalism that plagued the cemetery for years came to a sudden halt.

McEvoy was hesitant to announce the news at first, afraid that it would turn out to be a fluke. But now the cemetery is heading into its first video-recorded summer and still no vandals have hit.

McEvoy’s declaring victory.

“We’re ahead of the curve,” he said, predicting that many more cemetery directors will turn to technological protection soon.

A national cemetery association has been closely watching Vale’s experiment and plans to showcase the success, he added.

Vandalism costs cemeteries big money. Vale spends $11,000 each year to restore about 20 tombstones that have been kicked, pushed and cracked by vandals, McEvoy said. Some of that money is reimbursed by a state vandalism repair fund, which is supported by a statewide $8 burial fee, but the fund can only cover a percentage of each cemetery’s losses. Only in one year did the fund cover all of Vale’s needs, McEvoy said.

In Vale, the knocked-down stones aren’t easy to find: The cemetery has more than 30,000 stones and typically must right only 20 a year. But just one damaged stone can turn off a visitor who might have purchased a burial plot, McEvoy said.

Equally disturbing for potential customers is any hint of danger in the cemetery. Some residents still associate Vale with the cocaine dealer who was murdered there in 1974, and every year there are a few serious crimes at the cemetery.

A woman was raped in a wooded lot next to the cemetery last year and a 12-year-old was nearly raped in the cemetery itself, with police pulling her attacker off her just in time.

It’s not easy to protect a park-like cemetery that stretches over 110 acres in the middle of a city. The boundaries that must be guarded are immense. But McEvoy has hope that the cameras will help with safety, too.

There are now two cameras between the area where the woman was raped — one on Moyston Street and one on South Swan Street.

This spring, cameras will be added in the area where the girl was nearly raped, off Eastern Avenue. Cameras will cover all three entrances there, McEvoy said. Within a month, another camera will be installed near the Brandywine Avenue entrance, hopefully closing the last gap in the coverage network.

It’s not clear yet whether the cameras will deter serious criminals, but McEvoy’s already seen an increase in burial plot purchases.

“I think it’s the beginning of a renaissance,” he said hopefully. “People are beginning to appreciate it’s a beautiful spot in the middle of the city.”

Mayor Brian U. Stratton, who has championed the idea of security cameras in trouble spots throughout the city, said the cameras will be valuable even if they don’t deter serious crimes.

“I think we have deterred the wanton violence of just vandalizing. That shows the cameras work,” he said. “You may not prevent other crime but you’re going to solve it quickly, You get the criminal off the street faster.”

He was pleased to hear that plot sales had risen at the cemetery.

“Isn’t that wonderful,” he said. “Maybe people feel safer about their loved ones being there now. They’re certainly resting with a lot of wonderful people.”

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