Vandalism payback fund starts up

A new $5,000 fund will pay Mission Hill residents back for vandalism to their property.

The “restitution fund” is being paid for solely by local colleges. But there is dispute over whether it is an admission by the colleges that some of their students are vandals—including in cases where no suspect is caught.

“The colleges know [who commits vandalism]…It’s college students,” said David Welch, a leader in the Mission Hill Crime Committee who will help review applications for the payback fund.

“You can’t say for sure it’s college students,” said Robert Chambers, a Massachusetts College of Art and Design community relations official who also will review applications. He said that some students are vandals, but other people commit vandalism as well.

The fund is the brainchild of the Mission Hill Problem Properties Task Force, a group of residents, elected officials and college officials that monitors quality-of-life issues.

The fund will reimburse residents for small damages like pulled-up flowers and keyed cars, said Welch. Applicants will have to prove that they filed a police report. The fund is intended to pay for damage that insurance will not cover, or that residents don’t want insurance to pay for because it could raise their rates, Welch said.

The fund is backed by City Councilor Mike Ross, a founder of the Problem Properties Task Force. Ross gave what he said are real-life examples of local vandalism: the side mirror broken off the same car four to five times; and the theft of a bench and religious statues from lawns.

Applications will be reviewed by three local residents—one an attorney—and representatives from MassArt and Wentworth Institute of Technology (WIT). Applications are available at the Mission Hill Neighborhood Housing Services office at One Brigham Circle.

Ross said colleges have long paid for vandalism damage informally, so the new fund just formalizes the process.

“My intent is to make the lives of people live in Mission Hill a little better,” Ross said, noting that students who are vandalism victims can also get reimbursements.

Welch, a former security supervisor at New England Baptist Hospital, said that another inspiration was a similar restitution program he created at the hospital. It paid employees for minor thefts and vandalism to cars in the parking lot, he said.

Early paperwork for the new fund plainly said that it is intended to cover “vandalism that is caused by students,” Chambers said, adding, “That has been very controversial for a lot of the institutions.”

Like some other colleges the Gazette spoke to, MassArt sees itself as not admitting some connection to crime, but just trying to be a “good neighbor,” in Chambers’ words.

“We are not paying into the fund because our students have been a problem,” said Michael Ratty, a spokesperson for the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, in an email to the Gazette. “We are paying into the fund simply because we try to get involved with every Mission Hill activity we can, and because we think it’s just another part of being good neighbors in Mission Hill.”

John Tobin, Northeastern University’s vice president for community affairs, did not return a Gazette phone call. But in an article about the fund published last month in NU’s student paper, the Huntington News, he criticized the idea of blaming students without evidence. NU is paying into the fund, Ross said.

Ross said he does not want to be “unfair,” but added, “Let’s not be naive, either.”

“Virtually every time we’ve caught a suspect in such an act of vandalism, it has been a college student,” he said.

Welch added that fraud is unlikely due to the close-knit nature of the Mission Hill community and his experience in running the New England Baptist program. “I’ve found that most people are honest,” he said.

It appears that some of the dispute about blaming college students for vandalism was settled by making the fund relatively informal and setting it up as a one-year pilot program.

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