Preventing vandalism is about presenting a consistent face

When considering how to prevent vandalism, home and business owners often despair. The crime can be committed in an instant, yet it can have an enormous financial impact. It can be carried out by rivals or total strangers. It can occur in the middle of the working day, or the dead of night. You need to know how to deter vandalism—but what options are available, short of sleeping next to the back door with cellphone in hand?

The most effective option is definitely an actively monitored video surveillance system, one of the types that employs people to view the feeds, and make sure there's nothing suspicious going on. However, that can be too expensive and labor-intensive for many, and it disappears as soon as you stop paying the fees.

Here are some strategies that can make vandalism less likely without breaking the bank or requiring round-the-clock vigilance on your part.


Physical obstacles are your first line of defense

The first level of defense is the passive physical obstacle—not necessarily barriers—but areas that are difficult to pass for one reason or another. This begins with simple bright lighting on the areas under greatest threat. These areas will often be visible to the public, making visibility a major problem for those looking to get away with a criminal act. Even the possibility of being seen and/or identified by a passing car or pedestrian can be enough to stop an act of vandalism before it starts.

Beyond visibility, consider installing fencing and/or shrubbery to create a perimeter around the area you're looking to protect. These can be very effective, but fences and bushes also have the greatest aesthetic effect on your property, which is not necessarily what you want. It is also by far the most expensive option, calling the sheer cost-effectiveness into question.

Remove the temptation to vandalize

Consider using fencing to keep idle groups from forming near the building at night, since research shows that an area can "become a graffiti target when it becomes part of a 'hangout' area."1 And make sure that this barrier is well lit, so climbing becomes a danger in itself. But remember, barriers can sometimes create a safe, secluded space for a vandal to work.

That's where we must make other, more active attempts to determine how to prevent vandalism.


Security cameras are your secret (and obvious) weapon

For secluded spaces, security cameras are a very effective solution. The first principle when placing cameras is, obviously, place them out of easy reach of vandals. This can be done by installing the camera in a high place that can't be accessed easily, or by putting it behind a sturdy barrier like a strong window or metal cage. Bear in mind, however, that both solutions are vulnerable to spray paint as a means of blinding the camera—in the end, physically secluding the camera is the best solution.

Fake cameras do have some utility, but vandals will tend to notice patterns. If someone foolishly exposes themselves to a camera enclosure with no consequence, eventually the enclosure will cease to offer protection. Cameras should be used to cover wide areas, like the length of a back alley, with an aim to capture whole acts from beginning to end. Surveillance is among the least expensive options, since it doesn't require any large-scale renovation of your home or business, and video can be monitored remotely.


Security cameras facilitate vigilance

With properly placed cameras, even if they can't identify the perpetrator, they can produce pictures that employees can memorize. Further, they can show exactly how an intruder is entering the property and navigating the space. It's not just about where they might jump a fence, but what sorts of small features they use to climb up to a choice graffiti spot, for instance. This lets you act to remove these features for next time


Other approaches to protect against vandalism

There are a multitude of other approaches that can protect against vandalism, depending on the community and the type of vandalism seen most often. The bluntest solution, and the most defeatist, is to use vandalism-resistant materials and designs, like strong window that resist breaking and metal shutters that can be rolled up during the day to hide any tags that might have gone on during the night.

It's also important to remember why people carry out vandalism; the LAPD claims it's a mixture of boredom, anger, revenge, defiance and alliance.2 Investment in community programs, especially those focused on youths, can have a surprisingly strong effect. Combined with education about the real cost of vandalism, this can prevent damage before it ever even becomes a threat, and in the long term lessen the need for further investment in the space.

Also consider the fact that vandalism often has to do with a disrespect for places of business—but the frequency of tagging has been shown to respond to the installation of a mural or other aesthetic upgrade.3 The idea is that vandals are less likely to destroy or damage something that they think is a positive part of the community, and which appeals to their sense that art should be respected more than property.


Vandalism is the beginning of more general decay

At the end of the day, vandalism is a crime, one with a high association to other property crimes, most notably theft. Stopping vandalism is, in a very real way, helping to lessen the effect of crime in general before it can balloon to more serious offenses, or more serious forms of the same offenses. It can have, in a literal sense, a broken window effect.

So take action early to curb vandalism through prevention, deterrence and resilience. It's the difference between a cozy home or trustworthy business and a dilapidated building that, in many cases, only invites more vandalism in the future.

1. Barker, Mary, and Cressida Bridgeman. "Preventing Vandalism - What Works?" Police Research Group, 1994, 14.
2. "Preventing Vandalism." LAPD Online.
3. Craw, Penelope J., and Louis S. Leland. "The Mural as Graffiti Deterrence." Environment and Behavior, May 1, 2006.