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Downtown vandalism concerns officials
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Repeat instances of vandalism around the downtown Gainesville square has prompted police and city officials to discuss how best to combat the problem.

In the latest incident, someone knocked the eternal flame at Roosevelt Square off its pedestal, causing a gas leak, Gainesville Interim Police Chief Jane Nichols said.

Juveniles reported the damage Saturday night to an off-duty officer working security at an event at the Georgia Mountains Center, and firefighters quickly capped the leak, Nichols said. The damage has since been repaired.

In another recent incident, someone ripped fire extinguisher cabinets from the walls of the new Georgia Mountains Center parking deck and threw the extinguishers and chunks of concrete from the top of the parking deck.

“Our biggest concern is people tossing objects from the parking deck,” Nichols said. “It could really do serious damage to a car and cause catastrophic injury to a person.”

Nichols said vandalism near the square is an “ongoing problem,” and that streetside Christmas decorations have been a target in the past for vandals. But the increase in vandalism in cold-weather months has been unusual, she said.

Gainesville Assistant City Manager Angela Sheppard said the vandalism seems to have been occurring more frequently.

“We’re at a point of realizing something needs to be done, especially if the vandalism continues,” Sheppard said. “Our police have always been diligent and on the lookout for it, but we really want the citizens to be on the lookout for it, too.”

Police are stepping up patrols of the area and are considering other measures, including motion-sensor lights and alarms, Nichols said.

Witnesses told police skateboarders were seen in the area at the time of the damage to the eternal flame, but Nichols said police don’t want to lay all the blame for the vandalism on skateboarders.

Still, city officials are considering amending a skateboarding ordinance to more clearly identify where skateboarding is allowed, she said.

“I think what they’re trying to do is clarify some of the things that are acceptable and unacceptable so that the ordinance is easy to understand,” Nichols said.

The statewide curfew for juveniles ages 16 and younger is midnight. Nichols doubts the vandalism was committed after curfew and said there’s no certainty all the damage was done by juveniles.

City officials are hoping the public can help.

“We’re hoping a little public education will lead to some support,” Nichols said. “This is one of those crimes where to catch someone you’ve got to be at the right place at the right time. It’s better for people to contact us if they see something than just to assume it’s just kids playing.”

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