OTTUMWA — A Wildwood Park restroom covered in graffiti has caught the public’s attention, but the city parks director and interim police chief said it’s nothing out of the norm.
Parks Director Gene Rathje said he noticed the graffiti in Wildwood Park on Friday when he was out surveying the parks. As visitors drive in, two walls of the restroom on the right now feature statements against President Barack Obama, profanity against the police and an acronym typically associated with a gang.
“I’m guessing it was done sometime last week because our parks guys are out there every day, and they would have noticed it,” Rathje said.
He said parks staff will get rid of the graffiti sometime this week when they have time.
“It’s an ongoing process because as soon as we paint over it, somebody comes by and does something else,” he said. “Graffiti has become so commonplace that it’s not that big of a deal anymore.”
Likely, the graffiti came from “kids running around with spray paint cans,” Rathje said. “Why they do it, I don’t know.”
The video cameras poised over downtown have helped deter graffiti in those blocks, Rathje said.
“But it’s really not practical to put any in the parks,” he said. “They’re so remote. But [the cameras] are helping at the skate park and the downtown restrooms. Out in the parks, there’s not much we can do about it.”
Rathje said if graffiti is found in a park or on City Hall, it’s the responsibility of his department to get rid of it.
“I’ve noticed it in Wildwood [Park], and we’ve had some in the restrooms at the Jimmy Jones Shelter and some at Foster Park,” Rathje said. “We either try to take it off with graffiti remover, and if that doesn’t work, we paint over it.”
Interim Police Chief Tom McAndrew said if a vandal is caught in the act, an officer will file criminal charges, “but we don’t pan over it or anything like that” since that’s not the responsibility of the OPD.
Graffiti has been a problem in Ottumwa for years, he said.
While the acronym for a gang, “N.W.O.” or “New World Order,” was spray-painted on one side of the park’s restroom, McAndrew said there’s no way to tell if it was actually gang-related.
“We’ve had past instances where a young kid gets a hold of a spray paint can and paints a bunch of graffiti that’s gang-type stuff, but he isn’t really a member of that gang,” he said. “Other times it is gang members. We’ve got to treat it on a case-by-case basis.”
Since Rathje began his position as parks director five years ago, he said graffiti has been an off-and-on problem.
“It seems like it happens in spurts, especially in the spring and fall,” he said. “Graffiti is not that much out of the ordinary in park systems all over the U.S., it’s just worse here for some reason.”