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Cemetery security a concern after vandalism

Only a few weeks after graves were vandalized at Mitchell's city-owned cemetery, the city is considering upgrading its security at the site, as well as at its golf course.

On Monday, the City Council voted in favor of a supplemental appropriation that would set aside a total of $6,200 for security upgrades at Graceland Cemetery and Lakeview Golf Course, and will hold a final vote at its next regular meeting, set for Aug. 4.

Graceland Cemetery, which is next to Calvary, Servicemen's Memorial and the American Legion cemeteries in northern Mitchell, was vandalized between 5 p.m. June 30 or 7 a.m. July 1, when a person, or people, damaged several graves and memorials, including solar-powered lights and other objects, according to the Mitchell Police Division. The property damage was valued at approximately $1,500.

No one had been arrested in connection with the vandalism as of Tuesday, according to Mitchell Public Safety Chief Lyndon Overweg.

Kevin Thurman, the city's golf and cemetery director, said with council approval, security cameras will be installed in strategic locations around the maintenance building and grounds of the cemetery, and around the clubhouse of the golf course.

"We're not going to be able to catch everything, but hopefully we can slow down any vandalism," Thurman said.

Cemetery vandalism has been relatively rare in Mitchell, Thurman said, but when it does occur, the effect can be devastating for families and friends of the deceased.

"A cemetery is a sacred place and you're dealing with families in an emotionally compromised state," he said. "You don't need any tomfoolery going on."

The security cameras would also protect documents in the maintenance building, including burial records dating back to the 1860s, Thurman said. More than 15,000 people are buried at the four neighboring cemeteries in northern Mitchell.

Thurman said the recent vandalism helped bring attention to the issue, but security upgrades have been discussed in past years.

"In light of what happened, the timing was right," he said.

At Lakeview Golf Course, security cameras would monitor the area near the clubhouse to protect the equipment and merchandise stored inside and directly outside, as well as the employees working there.

If the proposal receives final approval from the council, Thurman said the security systems will be installed as soon as possible.

"We just need to move into a new era," he said. "Security is popping up everywhere."