It is an unfortunate sign of our times that the peacefulness of area cemeteries is being disrupted by people stealing grave markers and flower vases to sell for cash. In January, someone went to Memorial Park Cemetery in St. Petersburg and stole 1,500 pounds of titanium joint replacements such as hips and knees that were stored in below-ground vaults after bodies were cremated. Two men were later arrested.
In other St. Petersburg cemeteries earlier this year, bronze plaques, flower vases and even urns of ashes were stolen.
Vandalism, thefts and other problems have been occurring at Tarpon Springs' Cycadia Cemetery, too, and volunteers who oversee that city-owned property want the City Commission to do something about it.
The St. Petersburg Times recently spoke to a woman who found a homeless man sleeping on her late husband's grave at Cycadia, and when she woke him up, he yelled at her and asked for money, she said. Now she is afraid to visit the cemetery. Plaques and metal flower vases attached to grave markers also have been stolen at Cycadia.
The city's cemetery committee asked the city to install surveillance cameras to help prevent such incidents. The committee made the same request two years ago after some vandalism at the cemetery. Then, and now, the city has said a camera system is too expensive. City officials also said the cameras would be ineffective at night, when most problems occur, unless the cemetery was illuminated with new lights.
While the city's concern about costs is warranted because of a tight budget, the city also ought to be worried about the situation at Cycadia. The cemetery is a large public space full of good places to hide, and most of it is not fenced. Anyone can walk into the cemetery by stepping over a low masonry wall that surrounds the property, and people can even drive into the cemetery through the main gate, which is left open for after-hours cemetery visitors.
Public safety and protecting public property ought to be top priorities for the city government, and the kinds of activities occurring at Cycadia are a threat to both. If the city cannot afford to install a surveillance system, officials should come up with alternatives that will make the cemetery safer.
The cemetery committee suggested a video camera at the main gate, if nowhere else. With sufficient lighting at the entrance, a camera could be positioned to get video of cars entering and leaving the property, which could be useful if a crime is committed inside the cemetery.
At a minimum, there should be increased police patrols of the cemetery, and the city should also consider improving the lighting so that it would be easier for officers on patrol to get a better view of the property at night.
If people are afraid to visit the graves of their loved ones during daylight hours, and if public and private property are subject to vandalism and theft, the city has an obligation to do something to return peace to the grounds at Cycadia.