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Cameras requested to keep cemetery safe from transients, vandals

Side gates like this one at Tarpon Springs’ Cycadia Cemetery close at 5 p.m., but people can easily enter on foot by climbing over the low concrete wall that surrounds much of the property.

RITA FARLOW | Times

Side gates like this one at Tarpon Springs’ Cycadia Cemetery close at 5 p.m., but people can easily enter on foot by climbing over the low concrete wall that surrounds much of the property.

TARPON SPRINGS — Ella Jane Cone buried her husband of 51 years in 2006.

A few months later, when she went to visit her beloved Harrell at Cycadia Cemetery, she found a homeless man sleeping on his grave. The man jumped up and started yelling at Cone, 76.

"He wanted money," she said.

Cone, vice chairwoman of the city's all-volunteer cemetery committee, said she's hoping surveillance cameras will discourage transients from sleeping in the cemetery at night and could cut back on vandalism.

Earlier this month, committee members sent a letter to Tarpon Springs city commissioners, asking them to fund a surveillance system.

In addition to discouraging transients and vandals, committee members say more security is needed because metal vases and plaques from graves have recently gone missing. They speculate the metal is being sold to scrap dealers for quick cash.

But police officials said they haven't noticed any spike in incidents at the cemetery. Since January, police haven taken only three reports. Two dealt with theft or vandalism, said police spokeswoman Lt. Barb Templeton.

The committee made a similar request in 2006. The city's public services department looked into it but determined it was too expensive. They also questioned the effectiveness of such a system.

At the time, city officials estimated it would cost about $56,000 to install cameras, a computer system for viewing and recording images, poles and signs.

That amount does not include lights, which city staff thinks are necessary to capture clear images.

"In the darkness of night, you would have to have some illumination and how do you illuminate a cemetery?" said Juan Cruz, public services director.

Additional poles, lights and signs would also detract from the natural beauty of the cemetery, Cruz said.

There are four public access gates on the west side of the cemetery, and a main gate on Tarpon Avenue. The side gates are closed when cemetery staff leaves for the day at 5 p.m., but the main gate stays open to accommodate people who visit after work, Cruz said.

But the vast majority of the 30-acre property is not fenced, making it accessible to anyone who wants to step over the knee-high concrete wall that flanks much of the cemetery.

Committee members said they understand the challenges of recording clear images in a dark area, but asked city officials to consider cameras at the main entrance.

City staff is again reviewing the request, Cruz said. They have contacted several nearby cemeteries to see if they have cameras, and will determine cost estimates and gauge the effectiveness.

Three of the five cemeteries they've polled do not use cameras. Cruz said. They're still waiting to hear from two others.

The staff will prepare a report and bring it back to the committee in the coming weeks, Cruz said.

The city-owned and operated cemetery opened in 1872 on land donated by an early Tarpon Springs settler, Viola Keeney Beekman. In 1946, the land was formally deeded to the city.

Cone said she realizes that would-be vandals can enter the property from various spots and that cameras may not solve the problem.

Still, she thinks any measure of extra security could be helpful. She no longer will visit Harrell's grave by herself, she said.

"I'm nervous over it now," she said.

Rita Farlow can be reached at (727) 445-4162 or farlow@sptimes.com

Cameras requested to keep cemetery safe from transients, vandals 06/24/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 24, 2008 7:59pm]
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