My annual Village Idiot Award has multiple winners: All the idiots who are vandalizing Oahu’s public park restrooms by tearing sinks off walls, yanking toilets off bases and smashing them to bits. And sometimes setting them on fire.
My friend Katen Karlten has this graphic admonition for the Village Idiot winners: “You little shits. Where are you going to take a shit now?”
It is what my elderly aunt used to call “cutting off your nose to spite your face.” Meaning: doing something really stupid that ends up hurting you personally.
Park bathroom vandals destroy the very public toilets and sinks that were put in parks to make life more comfortable for them and their families and friends when they to go to the bathroom during beach outings or family picnics.
Why do they do it?
“It’s juveniles looking to have fun, to make mischief,” says criminologist Janet Davidson. “They are not even rationalizing when they are in the park bathroom that ‘this bathroom is mine and my family’s.’ They are not even thinking about that.”
Davidson teaches criminology and criminal justice at Chaminade University.
“In line with their boredom goes peer-influenced masculine posturing that, when mixed with drinking, fuels their tough, bad-ass behavior,” says Davidson, adding it tends to be a male thing.
Assuming that many of the vandals are kids, I also talked to McKay “Mac” Schwenke, vice president of the Hawaii-based Adult Friends For Youth.
For 30 years, the organization has successfully counseled thousands of violent juveniles to become hardworking, responsible adults.
Schwenke says, “We work with the worst of the worst, high-risk, violent kids, who are often in gangs. Restroom vandalism is the least of what they do.”
Schwenke says vandalism in park bathrooms usually happens late at night when kids are drinking with their friends.
“When the kids are intoxicated they do stupid things, especially when they are with their peers and start showing off,” he says. “They want to look like they are bad. They go to use a bathroom in the park and then do something insane like rip the sink off the wall.”
Schwenke says, “There are multiple reasons why they act out as they do. The best thing that could happen would be if they got caught and we could visit them and their families to try to find out what’s causing their underlying anger.”
Davidson says that’s the difficult part, trying to understand exactly what is prompting the rage.
“For juveniles in this materialistic age, they could be angry because they don’t have the things other kids have,” she says.
And to be clear, we can’t assume all the vandalizing idiots are kids.
“Stupidity knows no age limits,” says Christine Lawson, a friend in my boot camp exercise class.
The most recent episodes of idiots damaging their own community property happened on the weekend of Dec. 10-11.
Vandals spray-painted the walls of the Makakilo Community Park’s recreation room Dec. 11 with what city parks spokesman Nathan Serota calls “profanity-laced graffiti,” including the words “fuck” and “pussy” and oddly, “Trump.”
It was the second time in a week the Makakilo park had been attacked. On Dec. 7, vandals spray painted the park’s women’s bathroom with graffiti.
The same weekend as the Dec. 11 Makakilo destruction, vandals wrecked one of the male restrooms at Sandy Beach Park, tearing sinks from the restroom wall, smashing drains and urinal valves and toilet paper dispensers. They also burned a nearby trash container.
Honolulu Police Sgt. Jerome Pacarro’s Community Policing Team 7-East Honolulu is responsible for the Sandy Beach area.
Pacarro says, “It is difficult for me to get into the minds or people who would do something like this. Frustration may cause people to act out like this but I can’t imagine someone pulling out the sinks in a park bathroom. I really wish I had the answers. Then we could solve the problem.”
On Oct. 19, vandals broke a toilet and set a toilet paper dispenser on fire in Whitmore Neighborhood Park, causing the city to temporarily close the facility while it was repaired.
City Parks and Recreation Director Michele Nekota is frustrated because the vandalism not only deprives the public of needed restroom facilities but it also shifts park workers away from their park cleaning and beautification efforts to respond to the vandalism.
“It’s counter-productive,” Nekota said in an emailed statement.
Mayor Kirk Caldwell has made it a personal priority to go after park vandals.His public relations people issue a news release with pictures every time bathrooms in city parks get wrecked.
Caldwell dislikes talking to reporters one-on-one about difficult topics, but when it comes to park vandalism, he eagerly makes himself available by phone or in person to express his frustration.
In a phone conversation I had with him in March, he was befuddled by the idiocy of park users wrecking their own park bathrooms: “You travel to China and Japan and Europe and the mainland and you don’t see the kind of disrespect that people show for park facilities here,” he said.
Maybe I should invite the mayor to hand out my Village Idiot Award to the vandals. That is, if the fools could be arrested and prosecuted, which so far hasn’t happened. Not a single suspect has been arrested in the 10 separate incidents of park bathroom vandalism this year.
Even though I think the vandals are morons, youth counselor Schwenke says they are actually clever in their own way: “They operate at night when parks are closed. They know what they are doing. When police enter the park, they run away. As soon as the police are gone, they come back. They are not stupid.”
In fiscal year 2015, the city spent $140,000 to address damage from park vandalism. This year, it spent $100,000.
Serota says these expenses only account for what the city spent for materials for city workers to use to repair damage and do not include the much larger sums of money spent to hire private contractors to replace badly damaged city properties such as the comfort station at Keehi Lagoon Beach Park, where sometime after midnight March 23, vandals smashed all the toilets and sinks before setting the building on fire.
Then there was Kaiaka Bay Beach Park in Haleiwa, where the comfort station was heavily damaged by fire at a replacement cost to taxpayers of $480,000.
Kaiaka Park’s bathroom facilities have been targeted for destruction again and again.
Investigators suspect the person who originally torched the Kaiaka Park bathrooms on Jan. 18, 2014 is an arsonist.
Portable toilets were brought in for park-goers to use until the station was rebuilt. But vandals burned all four of the portable toilets Feb. 22.
Then, when two more portable toilets were delivered to replace the original four burned portable toilets, someone burned one of the replacements March 3.
Another despicable act of vandalism occurred just a few days after the city proudly showed off its newly refurbished bathrooms at Magic Island at Ala Moana Beach Park.
Sometime on the night of Jan. 15, vandals lifted a toilet off its foundation in the newly renovated women’s restroom at Magic Island and smashed it to pieces. They also damaged the toilet paper holder and one of the doors to a bathroom stall.
Since then, the city has installed bright LED lights around the perimeter of the Magic Island bathroom to discourage vandalism and other criminal activities.
And taxpayers are now footing the bill for more security equipment to try to prevent vandals from doing more harm.
Last month, the city installed video surveillance cameras at two comfort stations in Ala Moana Beach Park, two by the restroom by the L&L Hawaiian Barbecue stand and two more cameras at Magic Island restroom. Each camera costs about $400.
The city says after it installed two solar-powered flash cameras at Hans L’Orange Park in Waipahu in 2014, bathroom vandalism decreased. But the $4,000 cameras did not entirely stop dimwits from harming their own parks. After the cameras were placed, thieves cut a hole in the park’s fence in an area out of the camera’s sight and crawled through the hole to steal equipment from a park storeroom.
Another deterrent taxpayers are funding is security gates at all the newly renovated park bathrooms, but city spokesman Andrew Pereira says there aren’t enough park workers to lock some of the gates at night and reopen them in the morning.
So here we are. Like dogs chasing our tails and the vandals probably laughing their heads off.
If you happen to know any of these jerks, please tell them they’ve won my Village Idiot of the Year award. But to accept it, they first must get arrested and prosecuted.