Issues Facing Cemeteries Today

The biggest word that can describe issues facing cemeteries today is

Apathy

People prefer to take the view of “out of sight, out of mind” or “it’s not my problem”. They ignore critical structural issues surrounding family plots and then prefer to remove historic walls and copings rather than to repair and leave historically correct. Cities indemnify themselves by placing the burden of upkeep of gravestones on the families and descendants. Many of these people no longer are living or are not living in the immediate area.
The second greatest challenge for Colorado Cemeteries?

No Funding!

Even if caretakers take a proactive stance in cemetery conservation, they may not have access to funds or have advocates that can raise the funds to get the conservation work done.
Some cemeteries charge for perpetual care but this only covers lawn care and keeping the areas trimmed and fertilized. Many cemeteries invested those funds in the stock market as most banks do not give enough interest to allow those funds to grow. With the fall of the stockmarket between 2008 and 2010, much of those investments were severely affected. Cemeteries spend an overwhelming amount of money for water….if they are irrigated. If the cemetery is not irrigated, then hand watering can be done but this is time consuming and sometimes not practical. When there is a drought? Many grounds simply don’t get watered.
In Colorado, most publicly owned cemeteries have policies which do not allow them to use any cemetery funds for gravestone and grave plot conservation. Many relatives are not willing to invest money on an old stone or mausoleum.

Each cemetery has its own issues. Falling coping walls and monuments, crumbling stones, thefts of cemetery relics, and vandalism are all cemetery events that should concern all who work or visit these properties.

 

Caution: before doing any work in a cemetery, you should always contact the person responsible for that cemetery, to gain permission to do any work. It is important that you learn what rules and regulations may govern the care and upkeep of the cemetery. Many seemingly abandoned or poorly cared for cemeteries are usually governed by county or state entities. Many still are located on private property. Failing to contact the responsible person may result in criminal and/or civil litigation.

Many cemeteries are being stolen. You might be saying “Stolen”?

Yes…stolen. Anything from statuary left at the gravestone to items attached to the gravestone….to even stealing and selling the gravestone itself!
Items are popping up on Ebay and Craigslist. Please pay attention to items being sold that have any attachment to cemeteries and DO NOT buy them.
There are some that will take teddy bears and dolls from graveside and sell them as being “possessed” by a soul or spirit….
One might ask…..what other kind of crimes or disturbing events might happen in a cemetery? Well, just about anything that can happen in a “living” neighborhood. Cemeteries just don’t have as many witnesses.

In some areas, gangs have invaded these quiet places because there is a lot less traffic.

Report gang activity and graffiti immediately to the local police or sheriff AND contact the caretaker. 911 may be the best option on occasion but do it from a safe distance, while you can still see what is going on. DON’T let these people drive you from visiting! It’s the good visitors that need to stay.

Prostitution has been known to happen as many areas, including the old pioneer areas, which are rarely visited.

These people don’t want witnesses. Walk, drive through, jog, etc in groups or alone in areas where few go. It is usually beautiful there. Fewer visitors are the result of families dying off or moving away. ALWAYS carry a cell phone!!!

Suicides are always a concern for someone who has recently lost a family member or important friend.

Visiting the grave can bring back extreme feelings of depression. Watch these people closely and if you have any idea that something bad might happen, call 911 immediately. Don’t feel silly. You may just have saved a life.

Thieves see opportunity in few witnesses.

They take from the dead as they have no respect and firmly believe “well…they won’t be using it”. It is a despicable way to be. Use your cell phone to take a picture of the person, car, and license plate for future reference. If it is suspicious to you, then don’t shrug it off! At least contact the cemetery manager or owner and give them a copy of what you saw, where you were, and what pictures you might have been able to take. If it were your family plot, what would you want someone else to do????
It only takes a minute and an act of courage to get involved.

Individuals will use the cemetery for their own “religious” purposes.

Melting candles, throwing salt, carving symbols, and lying on gravestones (not your own) has been witnessed or damaging remnants found after. Report this activity to law enforcement AND the cemetery management immediately.

Cemetery Watch
In order for a crime to happen, there have to be three things present. Take any one of these things away and a crime will not occur.
1. Opportunity – there has to be an opportunity present. For example, a woman leaves her purse unattended in the shopping cart as she turns her back to load the groceries into the trunk. Unseen to her, a stranger takes advantage of this, and while her back is turned, he or she takes the purse and calmly walks away. Had the purse been put in the car first, the opportunity would not have existed.
2. Ability – a criminal needs to have the ability to commit a crime. Example, a person spots an open window on a second floor of a home. The person wants to burglarize the home but does not want to create noise to attract witnesses. He almost turns to check out the home next door, when he spots a ladder left on the side of the house, close to the window.
3. Desire – a person has to have the desire to commit a crime.

If there is an opportunity and the ability to commit a crime but there is no desire……there will be no criminal act. Being proactive and conscious about your surroundings can be the best deterrant. Thinking differently. It’s that simple.
The idea behind Cemetery Watch is to engage 3 to 4 vital segments of a community to work and actively communicate together to prevent crime and educate citizens. Essential members are the cemetery staff, local law enforcement, and actively involved citizens and visitors. If there is a Friend’s group active with the cemetery, then it is vital that they be involved also! Communication has to be open and active among all involved. The police or sheriff’s departments can provide insight (through calls for service) as to what happens after hours or calls that involve the cemetery. The cemetery manager should have an active ear towards visitors’ voiced concerns; communicate with the police department at least twice a month, and communicate with their staff and Friend’s group. The Friend’s group should actively work to educate people they contact and communicate with the cemetery manager and staff as to what they are seeing and being told.
Cemetery Watch will not be successful as a stand alone program in name only. The communication is key! Many Neighborhood Watches have failed because people took things for granted or thought a sign would solve the problem. It doesn’t.
Please remember that a sign does NOTHING but stay where it is posted. It does not make criminals avoid an area or shake in their boots because they are on notice. It takes engaged citizens and cemetery staff. Contact me at ingridmcdonaldcolorado@gmail.com to find out more about this program.

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