August 11, 2010 10:50:00 AM
Steve Mullen - [email protected]
Do you feel like you''re being watched?
If you were strolling down the Riverwalk in the evening hours over the past three weeks, you probably were.
Four Columbus police officers, dressed in Ghille suits, were hunkered down at points along the popular walkway. (A Ghille suit is a loose, head-to-toe camouflage smock that renders the wearer virtually invisible in the woods. It''s what Marine snipers use on special ops.)
But we can rest easy now. Let''s snuggle under our covers tonight in peace. Columbus''s latest Special Op is over.
You already know the punchline to this one. Four officers were dressed up in these Chewbacca costumes, on overtime pay (did I mention we paid them overtime?) for weeks on end, to catch kids spraying graffiti.
Kids. Graffiti. Overtime. Chewbacca.
Three juveniles were arrested. Since these are the only three kids who ever have and ever will get the idea to spray graffiti, we''ve solved the problem.
But this is only the first part of our shock-and-awe campaign against kids with cans of spray paint. The city plans to follow up by installing security cameras along the walkway. Police won''t be there to jump out of the bushes and yell "boo" at unsuspecting teens, hilariously knocking a good 10 years off their lives, but they''ll have grainy camera images to pore over after the fact.
Apparently Operation Graffiti Storm was launched at the urging of the mayor, who noticed graffiti when walking along the Riverwalk several weeks ago.
Maybe it''s unfair to criticize. The Riverwalk is a gem that needs to be protected. And make no mistake: Graffiti is bad. Police should be commended for sweating the small stuff -- the cornerstone of community policing is to tackle the small crimes, before they grow into big ones.
Unfortunately, kids are already doing some big ones.
If a police officer was dressed as a bush on Lawrence Drive on Sunday night, he might have caught the person -- probably a kid -- who did a drive-by shotgun shooting into a home along the street. No one has been arrested. Police say an argument between two juveniles earlier in the evening sparked the shooting. Luckily, no one was hurt, this time.
No word on whether cameras will be installed, or sniper gear will be employed, along Lawrence Drive, or Schoolhouse Avenue, or Seventh Avenue North, or any of the other places that have had violent shootings this year -- some of them fatal. It probably wouldn''t matter anyway -- someone intent on violence is going to do violence, no matter how many police are on the street.
Still, something feels out of whack here.
Here''s a humble suggestion: Send a Public Works crew down to the Riverwalk each morning with a can of Goof-Off to take care of the kids spraying paint. If cops have to work overtime, put them in high-crime areas, to take care of the kids spraying bullets.
We have plenty of work to go around.
Steve Mullen is Managing Editor of The Dispatch.