Park City vandals, like those who targeted Franz the Bear, difficult to catch, police say
Perpetrators quickly cause damage and then disappear from the scene
It seemed possible, if not likely, a bronze sculpture along Main Street would someday bear the brunt of an act of vandalism.
For years the Franz the Bear work has greeted people on the shopping, dining and entertainment strip. The sculpture of a bear on a bench provides a pleasant place to meet or take a photograph. But it is also an easily accessible, highly visible target for someone wanting to cause even a little bit of mayhem.
On a night in the middle of January, someone or several people knocked the beloved work on its back, leaving it on the ground just steps from the Main Street sidewalk.
The episode involving the sculpture was the most recent in a series of high-profile vandalism incidents on or just off Main Street stretching back years. Although the damage to the sculpture was not serious, and Franz the Bear was quickly put upright, the case highlights how difficult it can be for law enforcement to solve an act of vandalism, even on a street where there is usually activity of some sort well into the overnight hours.
The vandalism cases over the years include someone in 2020 painting over portions of giant social justice murals that were put on the Main Street asphalt and, long before, a man attacking two works created by the famed graffiti artist Banksy before the perpetrator’s eventual capture. The Banksy works themselves could be considered acts of vandalism even if they have come to be celebrated.
At least one and at many times several Park City police officers can be seen on Main Street into the overnight hours, as they monitor the crowds leaving the nightclubs at closing time. There is oftentimes drunkenness and disorderliness at various points of the night with the occasional fisticuffs. The police presence is usually less noticeable after the bar crowds disperse, in the several hours before dawn.
It is unlikely even with the police on Main Street, though, that an officer would come across an act of vandalism as it is happening. The damage to the bear sculpture, the social justice murals and the Banksy works likely took the perpetrators just minutes, if even that long. They could disappear via one of a variety of routes off Main Street and then out of Park City.
The Police Department, as is standard in law enforcement, is hesitant when discussing manpower during any given shift, as well as the placement of officers. The agency also declines to discuss any sort of electronic surveillance in the Main Street core although it is believed the police rely heavily on systems installed at private businesses.
“Main Street is a focal point for the community,” Phil Kirk, a police captain, said, describing the street as a place where lots of people gather.
He said the Police Department assigns additional officers to Main Street at busy times, including putting some of them on foot patrols, as he noted the number of restaurants and nightclubs on the street. During a typical Sundance Film Festival, when Main Street is usually at its busiest, the police assign officers to foot patrols in addition to the patrols in vehicles.
Kirk acknowledged tips from the public and footage from private surveillance systems offer critical assistance to the Police Department in cases on Main Street.
Although the vandalism cases can sometimes attract widespread publicity, the captain points to other criminal cases on Main Street that were cracked by the Police Department. Those investigations, he described, show the agency aggressively pursues perpetrators even if they elude law enforcement at the moment of the crime. He noted the police eventually solved an early morning 2019 smash-and-grab burglary at a Main Street jewelry store after the suspects avoided police officers at the time. The police in that case arrived at the scene within minutes once the suspects triggered the store’s alarm system, but the people responsible were already gone.
“It’s a challenge to be there at the right time, right place,” Kirk said.
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Daniel Lewis, an Old Town resident who unsuccessfully sought a spot on the Park City Council in 2019, said this week he will mount another campaign this year.