Emily Todd and Subha Bala
Examples of Vandalism
What is Vandalism?
• Vandalism ranges from dropping a small piece of litter on the
street, to arson and other blatant acts
• Unsightly and can in some instances be dangerous to the
Dumping of refuse
Smashing of windows and bus shelters
Fouling of pavements and green spaces
Interference with road signs
• Increase in drug sale and use, gangs, fights, weapons etc
• Vandalism failed to take centre stage
• Viewed as low level of aggression
• An intentional act aimed at damaging or destroying an object
that is another's property" (Moser, 1992)
• A voluntary degradation of the environment with no profit
motive whatsoever, the results of which are considered
damage by the actor(s) as well as the victim in relation to the
norms that govern the situation" (Goldstein, 1996, p. 19).
• “The willful or malicious destruction, injury, disfigurement, or
defacement of property without the consent of the owner"
(Casserly, Bass, & Garrett, 1982, p. 4).
• Property ownership
• The illegal destruction or defacement of property belonging to
someone else does not invariably lead to its classification as
the deviant act of vandalism.
He had three exceptions:
• Writing off
Pit and Zube (1991)
• Defined vandalism as “otherwise acceptable behaviour in an
inappropriate context” (p.103).
For ex: society carefully preserves the cliff inscriptions of American
Indians, marvels at human made tunnel cut through a giant
sequoia tree etc. However, they get angry when rock outcrops are
defaced by spray paint artists or trees initialed by knife wielding
Christensen and Clark (1978)
• Helped to distinguish the difference between vandalistic and
• Depreciative is unintended
• Vandalism implies:
New Definition of Vandalism
• Vandalism is an intentional act of destruction or defacement of
property not one’s own
Why study Vandalism?
• To understand the reasons why people vandalize
• Look at the motivation, rewards and punishments
• If ignored, then vandalism will continue and increase
• Frequent in places like schools, neighbourhoods, parks etc.
• Costly phenomenon
• If encouraged, criminal behaviour may increase
• More likely to be male than female, white than non-white
• No difference between economic backgrounds
• Instances of vandalism generally peak around grade 7 and
begins to decrease after that
• Often a child who has been suspended or has been in
detention, who feels they were treated unfairly
• Young people who commit acts of vandalism often feel
public property belongs to no one
Study: Sex differences and the motivation
to destroy. Walter, Houston Clark (1952)
This study was asked the following questions:
• Is there fundamentally any difference between girls and boys in
tendency to destroy property?
• What originates and motivates such acts?
• Has this urge any creative implications?
90 undergraduate students in psychology and education
• Boys are more destructive than girls
• The enjoyment of excitement, the stimulus of a crowd
situation and the expression of aggression were the motives
for which the respondents seemed most aware.
• Boys were more vigorous, bold, and less inhibited than the
girls in their destructive escapes.
• Several respondents mentioned enjoyment of the act itself,
which suggests that the urge to destroy may be closely
associated with the urge to create.
• Mainly Schools
• Davis (1971) stated University libraries in 1960’s
• In the U.S- growing damage to the National Parks and
• Vandalism is not just urban phenomenon, there is an increase
in vandalism on farms, and in rural areas.
The Ecology of Vandalism:
Context and Target
• The settings that promote, or at least frequently associated
with, the occurrence of vandalism
• The specific targets of such behaviours
• All acts of aggression are person-environment events
Vandalism is usually known to be high in school settings.
• Firm but fair administration
• Inconsistent or weak administrative support and follow
through (Casserly et al, 1980)
• Impersonal, unresponsive, non participatory, over regulated,
• High teacher turnover rates (Leftwich, 1977)
• Lack of interest/ middle class bias/ overuse of punitive control
Low School Vandalism
• Pablant and Baxter (1975) compared 16 pairs of schools with
either high or low rates of vandalism and matched them
within each pair for size, ethnic composition, grade level and
Schools with lower rates of vandalism had:
• Better aesthetic quality and maintenance
• Located in more densely populated areas with higher activity
• More obstructed view of school property by surrounding
• Better illuminated neighborhood areas
• School vandalism is correlated with community crime levels
When Does Vandalism Occur?
More likely to occur:
• After school hours
• Vacation period
• Later in the school week or later in the year
• Graduation time and end of school year
• First warm day of spring
• Many acts are under reported
• Difficulty in defining vandalism
• Only 3-4% acts of vandalism are prosecuted
• People who are responsible for the property are known to
• Coffield (1991) stated that many do not report because it is
seen as trivial, or the police may not do anything about it.
Studies by Coffield and Sturman
Coffield and Sturman
• Statistics on vandalism may look like they are objective,
accurate and convincing but are actually patchy, imprecise
• Vandalism across a number of public locations was shown to
be 14-15 times greater than what was reported to the police.
Prevalence of Vandalism
• The Ontario Task Force on Vandalism investigated public
opinion regarding vandalism
• When asked, “Is vandalism a serious problem in your
37% of Toronto residents said it was a problem
56% residing outside of Toronto thought vandalism was a
problem (1981, p.25)
67% of the Toronto residents polled believed that vandalism
has increased over the previous five years.
Wiesenthal, David.L. (1990). Psychological aspects of vandalism.
• In an Ontario survey of secondary school students, only half
described vandalism as either “quite” or “very” serious
• In an Ontario Task Force telephone survey, respondents were
asked if they had been victimized by vandalism in the previous
In Toronto: 19% indicated that vandalism occurred
Outside of Toronto: 14% indicated that vandalism occurred
• Supervision of the workers doing the repair work
• Transporting workers and materials to the job site
• The replacements cost of equipment
• The security investigation of the act
In school setting:
• Destruction of valuable and irreplaceable records
• Loss of specialized teaching facilities
• Loss of classroom availability during repairs
• Vandalism cost the Toronto Board of Education with 156
schools 1 million in 1981
• In the first three months of 1981- Mississauga tax payers paid
$8400 for damages to public parks and $400 slashed seats.
• In Dartmouth, N.S- vandals were responsible for $120,000 of
damage to six homes in one night.
• The victim is singled out feeling unsafe and alienated. The
victim maybe more fearful, hostile and suspicious of strangers
Vestermark & Blauvert (1978)
• Racial slurs spray painted on the school hallways may result in
the school closing down for a period of time
Social costs in school settings:
• Impact on education.
• Psychological impact on both students and adults
• Disruptiveness of group or intergroup relations.
Example of Social Cost
York Students Rally Against Racism
"This space is ours," Nazareth Yirgalem of the York University Black
Students' Alliance (YUBSA) told a rally in the Student Centre. "We pay
enough money to be here. York has to do a better job of protecting us."
Phrases including "All N- - - - - s must die" and "N - - - - s go back to
Africa" were found Tuesday on the door of YUBSA's office and an
adjacent washroom. It was the second such discovery on campus this
month, Yirgalem told the crowd.
The vandalism is the latest high-profile crime on the sprawling campus of
Canada's third-largest university. Since September, there have also been
three sexual attacks and an assault on a Student Centre employee.
Martin (1959,1961) proposed a tripart typology
• Predatory Vandalism
• Vindictive Vandalism
• Wanton Vandalism
• Believed sources of vandalism do not reside in the vandal
themselves but in the nature and quality of the building, park
equipment, public facilities and other targets
Vandalism of overuse
Irresistible temptation vandalism
Cohen Typology (1971,1974)
Cohen’s typology is frequently utilized and it consists of six
• Acquisitive vandalism
• Tactical vandalism
• Ideological vandalism
• Vindictive vandalism
• Play vandalism
• Malicious vandalism
Four motivational bases for vandalism:
• Financial gain
• Peer-group pressure
• The typologies that have been set forth were derived through
speculation, intuition and informal observation (Goldstein,
• Absence of formal research in this area
• Though they remain largely untested, they are the first step in
Formal Theories of Vandalism
• Enjoyment experienced during the destruction of an object
• Investigators have often called it “Wreckcreation”
• Pleasure is gained by:
Allen & Greenberger (1978) stated these variable are not only
central to artistic creation, but to destruction as well.
Aesthetic Theory Cont…
• Allen & Greenberger investigated vandalistic behaviour in
laboratory context as well as retrospect interview studies of
actual vandalistic behaviour to support their theory. They
found that there are three stages to vandalism.
The expectation or prediction regarding how an object may
appear after destruction is viewed as:
Eliciting Cue: Stimulate or evoke vandalisms
Discriminative cue: influences target selection
Destruction and Complexity: An
Application of Aesthetic Theory
Allen & Greenberger (1978)
Hypothesis: Enjoyment derived from destructive acts is due to the
same stimulus characteristics that determine the enjoyment of aesthetic
experiences: factors like complexity, unexpectedness, or novelty.
Subjects viewed five films depicting panes of glass breaking, ranging from a
wide subjective scale of complexity.
20 undergraduate students:10 female,10 male
• Asked to rate the degree of complexity of the breaking
• Asked to rate how much they would like to break each pane
As predicted, the one they ranked high in their desire to break was
identical to their ranking for complexity
Graffiti in Toronto:
Vandalism or Art?
Graffiti Alley, Toronto
City of Toronto Graffiti Bylaw
Defines graffiti as:
“One or more letters, symbols, figures,
etching, scratches, inscriptions, stains, or
other markings that disfigure or deface a
structure or thing, howsoever made or
otherwise affixed on the structure or thing,
but, for greater certainty, does not include
an art mural”
•City will remove graffiti on city owned
buildings, bridges and public parks
•Graffiti writers found in a group of 3 or
more are considered a gang
Clean City team:
• For large-scale graffiti clean-up in certain Toronto areas
identified as most visible to the public and experiencing the
• Toronto Police also introduced Graffiti Eradication Program
Broken Window Theory
(Wilson, Coles, & Kelling, 1982)
• “If acts of vandalism such as broken
windows, graffiti and litter are allowed
to exist and proliferate, more serious
crime, such as rape and murder, are
soon to follow.”
Queen St. and John St.
• In early 2008 racist graffiti plagued York University
targeting Jewish, Italian and black people
Negative Graffiti cont..
• Retaliation to graffiti on the door of York University Black
Students Alliance saying to “go back to Africa”
• Graffiti an attempt by ordinary people to make themselves
seen and to assert their right to the city
Avenue Rd. and Foxbar
“Some people like to collect stamps, I like to write on walls”
local graffiti artist
Queen St. W. and Spadina Ave.
Queen St. And Church St.
• Toronto has annual graffiti festival in July
• Graffiti is expression and free art
• “There are so many paid advertisements we are forced to
look at around the city, so why not create our own
messages? It’s our chance to create our own art and views,”
says Circus, a local writer.
• “I think for me, my goal is to invade public spaces and put
people in check and knock them out of their routine for a
second and make them look at what else is out there. There
are actually people willing to paint on surfaces for free
because they love it. I think to deny that desire is inhuman,”
says Mentos, a writer (aka graffiti artist) in Vancouver and
• “A vodka ad can take up 100-square feet of a building or
the sky but a simple throw-up or tag is considered an
eyesore and immediately removed”
Csikszentmihalyi and Larsen (1978)
• vandalism in schools results from combination of three factors:
1. Extrinsic reward and punishment systems have become less
2. Means-end relationship of education has become less
3. ‘Criminal’ activity more fun than school
Enjoyment Theory Cont...
• Activity seems enjoyable when perceived skills match
opportunities for action perceived in challenges
• Flow is impeded when activities lack graduated challenge,
predictability, feedback and clear goals (also encouraging
• Lack of such experiences in schools causes students to not
get intrinsically motivated to take part in them
Enjoyment Theory cont...
• Schools rely heavily on technological solutions to deter
• Alarms, lighting, fencing, video surveillance
• Students perceive the only way to experience control over
their own behaviours is to break the rules
• Impact of the environment on behaviour
• Murray (1938) described behaviour as a joint outcome of both
the individual’s (person) and environmental need-satisfying
• Interactionist position both probabilistic and reciprocal
• Probabilism: Environment neither determines nor merely
• Determinism: Environment shapes behaviour and the person
is a passive responder
• Possibilism: Person acts on the environment which provides
opportunities but does not shape behaviour
• Krupat (1985) dynamic relationship with give and take with
each part influencing each other
• “We shape our environments and in turn are shaped by them
in a never-ending cycle of mutual influence”
Changing the Physical and Social
• Environment oriented strategies look to alter the physical
setting, context, or situation in which vandalism might
• School districts, mass transit systems, museums, shopping
malls, national and provincial parks, etc.: opted for target
hardening, access controlling, offender deflecting, entry-
exit screening, surveillance increasing, inducement
removing, and other similar tactical concretizations of an
environment-altering intervention strategy as their only
means to combat vandalism.
• Environmental alterations that are used to reduce
vandalism may also seem like inviting and enjoyable
challenges to his or her vandalistic skills and thus, increase
the behaviour (Wise 1982., Zweig & Ducey, 1978).
• Fences around school, graffiti resistant wall surfaces, theft
proof parking meters, slash-proof bus seats, toughened
glass, store surveillance cameras etc are seen as
opportunity and challenging invitations to vandalism
• “upside” of reliance on physical alteration is that designs
innovations may be relevant in deopportunizing vandalism in more
than one way.
• Observed that “property damage can be avoided by design elements
that do more than resist attack; design can be used to subtly steer the
user away from destruction or defacement” (p.289)
Wise (1982) said that designs
• channel attention away from potentially damaging activities
• to reduce the effect of natural processes (erosion, weathering)
• Reduce/eliminate environmental feedback which reinforce vandalistic
For example: ply wood road signs which “thunk” when hit by a target
practice bullet, maybe less attractive target than signs made of metals
which have a louder noise.
• Social environment: micro and macro levels.
• At the micro, immediate level: the central, socio-ecological
intervention concept is surveillance, both perceived and
• Vandalism, it is held, is less likely to occur if the potential
perpetrator believes he/she will be observed and perhaps
Developed the Place Defense Model
• Incident-specific Personal- urges citizens when appropriate to
threaten transgressors and physically stop vandalistic
• Incident-specific appeals to authority- requesting police or
other authorities to confront transgressors.
• Incident-specific Social Intervention- forming a crime watch
group or hiring security personnel.
Shaw (1973) with his macro environmental observation on
vandal’s social ecology, noted:
“Vandalism is a rebellion with a cause. To prevent it, we
must combat social indifference, apathy, isolation and the
loss of community, neighborhood and family values. We
must reaffirm the principle that human rights are more
important than property rights, and property rights are
acknowledged by all when all have a share in them.” (p.18)
Intervention and Implementation
Intervention and Implementation tactics
Natural Surveillance: Provided by employees, home owners,
pedestrians, and others going about their daily life activities:
• Community after-school use
• Reduced teacher-student ratio
• Increased number of employees, for example, playground
supervisors, bus conductors, and teachers
• Twenty-four-hour custodial staffing
• Live-in custodian or caretaker
• The physical removal or enhanced inaccessibility of potential
Use of Graffiti dissuaders:
• Teflon, plastic, laminate, fiberglass, or melamine covering
• Rock, cement, slanted siding, or deeply grooved surfaces
• Paint-outs or paint with contrasting colors in patterned surfaces
• Fast-growing wall vines or shrubbery or built wall barriers
• Removal of archaeological art from site to museum
• Nondisclosure of archaeological sites
• Removal of pay phones from high loitering areas
• Removal of corner bus seats, hidden from (driver’s) view.
• Removing windows in school and other buildings
Identifying property: Marking of Potential vandalism targets
• Business logo- Using such logo’s to show that the property
belongs to someone.
• Organization stencil
Removing Inducements: Physical alteration of vandalism targets
• Rapid repair of damaged property
• Removal of graffiti
• Beautification programs- Ex: possibly painting over graffiti or
• Removal of gates or fences
Rule setting: making explicit or prior statements of
acceptable or unacceptable behaviour.
• Federal Antiquities Act of 1906
• Model Hate Crime Bill
• Prohibition of spray-paint and indelible-marker sales
Education: an effort to educate potential vandals and actual
vandals about vandalism costs, consequences and
• Vandalism education programs.
• Vandalism awareness walks.
• Anti-vandalism films.
• Class-room discussion on reducing vandalism.
• Teacher multicultural sensitivity training.
• Target hardening: using devices to physically block the vandal
• Access control: features to maintain control over ability to
ex. Limited entrances; locked gates, doors and windows;
fenced yards; unclimbable trees next to building
• Deflecting offenders: directing potentially criminal aggressive
behaviour in more prosocial directions
ex. Graffiti boards and mural programs, interesting wallpaper,
chalkboard, etc on bathroom walls, steering pathway
circulation, litter bins
• Controlling facilitators: making means to vandalize less
available or less damaging
ex. Controlling spray paint sales, removing debris and litter
from ground, placing signs and decorative hardware out of
reach from ground, and fire alarms or thermostats away from
common hangout areas
• Exit-entry screening: closed-circuit TV; metal, vibration,
motion detectors, alarm systems
• Formal surveillance: police, guards, monitors, citizen groups