Rep. Joseph Leepan T. Guerrero (R-Saipan) wants stiffer penalties and fines for people who are caught defacing or vandalizing public property in the CNMI like parks and tourist sites or even those owned by private individuals.
Guerrero believes his plan would arouse some opposition but he pointed out that the local government spends money to beautify and renovate public places in the CNMI, especially tourist sites.
“People may think that there’s no criminal element in defacing public property. But what happened if that was your own building? How would you feel about it? I don’t think you’ll be comfortable with what happened,” said Guerrero.
“Why can’t we have public places here…in the CNMI that people could enjoy without being vandalized? It’s probably kids who are doing those things.”
Educating the youth could be one step to curb the practice. “In any community, you have people who would vandalize public properties. It is a part of every community everywhere you go, but we just need to educate people. We need to inform everyone.”
“The [Marianas Visitors Authority] should be tasked with publicly educating people. Or maybe we need to identify what agency would lead the project and find a funding source for them. We must put out a public information campaign that would say these are the consequences that you’re going to meet if you deface or vandalize a property.”
And if all others fail, Guerrero plans to revisit some CNMI laws to increase the penalties and probably impose prison time.
“To rigorously make it more harsher. Instead of misdemeanor, why don’t we consider it a felony? If that’s the only option to curb defacing public property, then obviously we should start somewhere,” said Guerrero.
The law allows the Division of Parks and Recreation to impose a fine of up to $500 on anyone who engages in any prohibited activity in Commonwealth parks, recreation areas, or tourist sites. The list of violations include vandalism, graffiti, littering, destruction of structures or monuments, building fires outside of designated fireplaces, and destruction of other park properties, including plants.
Public Law 14-27 established park rangers under the Division of Parks and Recreation and designated the Department of Lands and Natural Resources as the administering authority for tourist sites that were formerly managed and maintained by MVA.
Guerrero said it can also be done in tiers—a first offense could merit a stiff fine and probably the offender would be requested to write a letter that would be published apologizing for defacing a property.
Strike two, on Guerrero’s suggestion, is increasing the fine, a suspended sentence, and being placed on probation. A third time would mean a large fine and probably imprisonment.
“Maybe three months in jail would [motivate] you not to do it again. If you don’t want to serve time, then don’t do the crime,” said Guerrero.