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Re: Theft 101

  • Subject: Re: [cg] Theft 101
  • From: "Sandy Pernitz" <Sandy.Pernitz@Seattle.Gov>
  • Date: Wed, 09 Jun 2004 11:02:52 -0700
  • Content-disposition: inline

Hi all, Seattle here...
Well yes we do have some of these same issues here but I guess what
"allows" us to not lock up our gardens (they do have a symbolic
parameter fencing, with some having a time frame posted on gates when
you can be in the garden) is largely due to the fact that we are a
citywide, city funded program.  Many of our gardens are on public land
(lots of parks department properties) and these are open to the public. 
It is one way to battle the impression of private use of public land
that is present among some groups when they think about the "public" in
community garden.  Over the years there has been more of a push to make
these spaces seen as public open space benefit, not a private area for
just some of the community. 
That said people are not happy when they work hard and their items are
stolen, understandably. We have minimal incidents of vandalism each year
and it is just part of the nature of gardening out on public land (think
even those with fences still deal with that occasionally) It is amazing
to me with over 50 gardens unlocked around the whole city how little
really does happen.  Maybe it is all in the attitude, lots of letting go
when you are gardening out with the community.  The gardens in the most
dense urban areas tend to have the most problems (theft, camping,
etc...).  We work with the gardeners, neighbors, and police to keep an
eye out and report any illegal activities (a form of community
building).  It is illegal to steal from a community garden here, not a
priority for the police but enforceable all the same.  We engage all
members of the community in the garden whenever possible and at least
try and verbally educate (either in person or with signage) about the
fact that individual's have cared for these spaces and should be the
ones reaping the harvests.  Of coarse it always does not work so here
are some of the strategies people have tried to deter theft, from a
coordinator manual we have been updating.
Theft/Vandalism/Illegal dumping
From time to time area gardens are affected by these adverse elements;
and its sources can come from within or outside the garden.   Practicing
prevention is the first step in curbing these activities.
If you wish to share your produce/flowers, please pick it and give it. 
Don't "invite" different people from the neighborhood (kids too)
in to pick something when you aren't there.  Several problems can
arise from doing this.  Other people may conclude they can pick too. 
People from outside the garden often don't understand that next year
someone else might be gardening your plot and that person won't want
uninvited picking.  Misunderstandings occur about the boundaries of your
plot and where it is or is not OK to pick.  And finally, what may be a
one time or limited offer from you is sometimes taken as an open
Keep your plot well harvested.  A common excuse given by thieves is
"there sure is a lot of food going to waste here".  If
someone's plot looks like it has not been harvested in a while, a
simple reminder call could be in order; if they can't, offer to glean
and take the fruit to the nearest food bank. 
Get to know your garden neighbors and encourage reporting of illegal
activities.  P-Patch program staff can help with signs.  Encourage
gardeners to get to know other gardeners.  Consider hiding vegetables in
the design of your garden by placing desirable plants in less visible
location and use perennials as cover.  It helps to plant more vegetables
than you need.  These measures should reduce the amount of theft, yet
some sites may find an organized, continuous problem.  Collective
actions may need to happen and in this case it should be reported to the

If you observe theft or vandalism in the garden, first call 911.  Get a
good description of person or vehicle if possible.  If the person is
caught in the act have police issue a "No Trespass" card when they
arrive.  Get the incident report number and be sure to post information
for other gardeners to see. If you find vandalism and/or theft after the
fact you can still report it to the police and get an incident number. 
Sometimes if you're having on-going problems it is good to let the
police know you're having problems so they can try and do more visits
to the site.  See attachment: Safety, Theft and Vandalism in Garden for
further strategies and contact information.

The following are garden examples of dealing with theft.
Garden Theft Can Have Consequences
by Bruce Swee-Interbay P-Patch
It's early in the day, when nature is at peace with the world.  The
plants are awaiting their gardeners hand for grooming and nurturing. 
Suddenly an unseen hand rips the plant from the earth, its prized
features cut out.  Hours later, the gardener discovers the loss.  The
stolen plants have left frustration and anger, labor wasted, and the
gardener feeling violated.

This happens often in the P-Patch community.  The standard official
recourse is to file a police report, which leads to limited results. 
It's easy to lay blame and point fingers, and if this is your
solution, you can expect a lot more of the same in the future.  Recently
Interbay, achieved a more satisfying result.

With information gathered from other gardeners, we determined when the
most likely time our thief might show.  His features were identified
along with his means of transportation.  Supplied with binoculars,
camera, and cell phone, I positioned my car outside the garden.  I
waited and waited.  When he arrived, I immediately called the police,
then sat back and watched the satisfying results unfold.  He was caught
red handed.  I managed to photograph the man, and post his picture in
the garden.  His photo, initiated countless other incidents involving
our gardeners and this individual.  The lesson for us was loud and
clear, COMMUNICATE.  By bringing together assorted information, we
discovered we knew far more than we realized.  Assist your P-Patch
community and report any incident, large or small to leadership.

We found out that it is important if you catch the thief to ask the
officer to issue a "trespass card".  Some officers will do so
without being asked, while others do not.  It is important that this be
done so that a record is created on the police computer system.  
Illegal dumping and trash
Trash at the garden happens.  There is no formal trash service at most
p-patches, the only gardens that have small trash pickup are those
housed on shared Parks property.  If your garden is not in a city park
it is the gardener's responsibility to dispose of their trash, pack it
in pack it out.  
Illegal Dumping does occur at various gardens; in that case notify
illegal dumping at #insert that number here. You should also notify your
staff person.  If you have large amounts of debris you can contact Tom
Gannon # 684-8565 from Seattle Public Utilities he will periodically
help out gardens with free dump passes.

Thanks for your time,
Sandy Pernitz
Community Garden Coordinator
P-Patch Program/Dept. of Neighborhoods
"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to
everything else in the Universe."  John Muir
700 3rd Ave, Suite 400
Seattle, WA  98104

>>> jay sokolovsky <jsokolov@stpt.usf.edu> 06/08/04 07:49PM >>>
It would be interesting to hear from gardeners in places like Seattle 
where many of the community gardens have no locked fences. What are the

factors that allows these places to get away with this.


Jay Sokolovsky

Adam36055@aol.com wrote:

> Dear Don,
> People steal.  Don't feel particularly bad that it's happening in a 
> garden - in the UK, for example, plant & tool theft are huge, if you

> believe the press reports, largely because gardening is so popular
> people will buy up the swag, or plant a looted perennial that they've

> bought hot because it's cheap.
> Yes, fences are essential.  When we started the Clinton Community 
> Garden in the heart of Hells Kitchen in 1979,  we walked in on a 
> Beirut-like urban moonscape with rubble, rusted cars, expended
> and a dead junkie drawing flies. What we saved, we fenced, watched -

> kinda easy because there are tenements all around the garden, and 
> worked to keep secure.
> We still have theft - just last week someone stole some new patio 
> chairs the same day they were donated,  fer chrissakes, but we have 
> managed to preserve our tools and stuff by following some basic 
> procedures.
> 1) Fence the garden completely around it's perimeter if you don't
> secure brick walls at least on a few sides.
> 2) Have a few rules but clear, and post the signage  throughout the 
> garden and up front. Let it be known among the garden rank-and-file 
> that there have been thefts, they hurt the garden, and you'd really 
> appreciate it if they have any ideas about how to make the garden
> secure. And listen to what people say. And say that, "Heck, garden 
> shears come home in my pocket too. But we have to remember to bring 
> them back."
> The idea is to get folks conscious and aware, without getting them 
> paranoid. It's just learning to be being careful with garden
> 3) Let it be known to your neighbors that there have been thefts and

> let local law enforcement know about it too - The line, " And we're 
> raising food for seniors, the homeless, etc.., " gets the idea across

> that there is some significance to what is being stolen. You're on
> cop's beat, they should come by and say, "hi."
> 4) At night time, or when there are no gardeners in the gardener lock

> it.  I'm an 8 foot fence fan - it takes effort to climb and eight
> fence and climbing one takes some effort and is pretty obvious.
> 5) At the Clinton Community Garden, we have a shed for tools, that is

> in the back locked garden area. There is an unlocked lean-to attached

> to the shed with the more replacable tools, and locked areas in the 
> main shed where we keep beekeeping equipment, the chipper shredder
> the more expensive tools.  Access to these areas are on a "need to 
> use" basis and is controlled by key.
> 6) All garden tools are marked with a hideous yellow paint, and have

> the legend, "Clinton Community Garden," permanently marked on them."

> There is no question that they are our tools.
> 7) Most imporantly, you have to foster a sense of real ownership of 
> the garden in everyone who uses it - that the land, the tools, the 
> plants are all owned in common and that theft really is an assault on

> everyone.
> I'm sorry that the wands, gazing balls, a decorations have been
> - and that someone is enjoying them in private, or has tried to sell

> them. You're not going to be able to stop theft completely, but by 
> keeping stuff secure, marking tools and garden property, and creating

> a sense of ownership in all of your gardeners and partners, then you

> have a chance at keeping your garden from "walking away."
> Everbest,
> Adam Honigman
> Volunteer,
> Clinton Community Garden <http://www.clintoncommunitygarden.org/>
>> We're just starting to get theft. Small stuff -
>> watering wands, gazing balls and other garden
>> decorations, that kind of thing. No tools or hoses
>> taken - yet. We are partly fenced (a company has
>> offered to make us a nice 'real' fence, but there's
>> not a clear time frame), the site is on a busy road in
>> a farmer's field, surrounded by development but with
>> no residence close.
>> Anyone experienced something similar? Any ideas about
>> who the culprits might be, given the pattern of theft?
>> If we don't fence, what can we do? If we do get a
>> fence, any recommendation on type? Key protocols?

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