City increases security at cemetery after thefts

GREENFIELD — Greenfield officials are increasing security at a local cemetery after more than a dozen planting urns were stolen from the city-owned property.

Installing security cameras never seemed necessary at Park Cemetery before now, officials said. But after about 20 heavy metal planters were reported stolen from graves across the property, officials said they felt moved to take steps to protect families’ property.

Now, two recorders await visitors at the entrance to the property, located in the 600 block of South State Street, in an effort to catch those involved and prevent further thefts from occurring.

But city officials admit they’re disappointed criminals forced them to more strictly monitor the property. For years, city leaders thought it was impor-tant to preserve a quiet and private setting for families there to mourn the loss of the loved one, said Street Commission Tyler Rankins, who oversees the cemetery.

“We wanted it be peaceful there,” Rankins said. “This was the first big issue we’d had, and we’re hoping (the cameras) will prevent another problem.”

The urns that were stolen are used to decorate headstones, police said. They are commonly made of cast iron or stainless steel and can weigh several hundred pounds.

Police believe thieves might be stealing the urns to sell for scrap metal or at antique shops, pocketing the several hundred dollars in cash they’d make off the sale.

The first theft report came in March from a concerned family, but as cemetery staff started their annual spring landscaping efforts, they noticed even more had been taken, officials said.

Now, cemetery officials have started a log of the remaining urns and where each is located on the property in an effort to monitor any additional thefts, Rankins said.

City officials are debating whether or not to put signs up alerting visitors to cameras. Rankins said he is hesitant to create additional eyesores in what is meant to be a tranquil area.

Nick Riedman, Greenfield’s technology director, said police traditionally lead the charge in deciding what city-owned properties need heightened security, and the push usually comes after an increase in crime or vandalism in a certain area.

Riedman’s office installs and monitors the devices, which carry a price tag of $1,000 each, he said.

“We don’t want to become Big Brother, but we want people to safe,” he said.

Greenfield Police Department has in the past dealt with some issues of crimes at the cemetery but none to the extent of the recent thefts, said Detective Lt. Randy Ratliff, the head of the department’s investigations unit.

The police investigation was stalled because the cemetery lacked cameras; the department still has very few leads on suspects. But news reports of the thefts and the police investigations surrounding them seem to have stifled the problem for now, Ratliff said.

“Someone got nervous,” he said.

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Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or cvanoverberghe@greenfieldreporter.com.