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Vandalism - Overview of the Problem and Recommended Prevention Techniques

NCJ Number
R E Wilson
Date Published
34 pages
This paper provides an overview of the perpetrators, causes, and costs of vandalism and then outlines various prevention strategies.
Throughout history vandalism, in the form of wartime acts and graffiti, has been an acknowledged part of social living. The word 'vandalism' has many meanings but usually refers to destruction of property. The typical vandal does not exist, but a British sociologist has developed a typology based on causation which can help identify the vandal. Motivations for vandalism include financial gain, personal vindictiveness, frustration, protest for an ideological cause, and a desire for self-expression and recognition. Seemingly harmless games and activities in the name of play can result in property damage. Lack of public concern about vandalism and failure to comprehend the dimensions of the problem contribute to its continuance. Vandalism tends to occur in environments that are anonymous, such as on vacant buildings or signs. Although the total cost of vandalism in the United States is estimated to be between $2 and $10 billion annually, underreporting and the practice of including vandalism as an operating cost of business make this a conservative figure. Indirect costs, such as higher taxes and insurance premiums, should also be considered as well as social costs when community buildings are damaged. Most vandalism prevention theories focus on either the vandal or the target, but truly effective programs must integrate sociopsychological approaches with traditional physical control methods. Persistence in repair of damage or removal of defacement is necessary, as are target hardening tactics. However, in the long term vandalism can only be prevented with cooperation from the community and programs that address basic social causes. Recommendations to help all elements in the community combat vandalism are given, and specific prevention programs are described. Observations on vandalism committed on abandoned cars, construction sites, and littered streets are appended.