Faced with a costly vandalism problem, Columbia Association officials and county police will begin offering a reward today for information leading to the arrest and conviction of vandals.
The Columbia Council, the association's board of directors, voted unanimously last night to give $250 to the Police Department for a reward fund. The council might contribute more.
Members asked association President Padraic M. Kennedy to explore that possibility with Police Chief James N. Robey.
The Police Department already is putting up $250.
The department asked the council last week for an equal amount.
In 1995, more than 4,000 vandalism acts were reported to police.
Repairing the vandalism cost more than $240,000 last year -- about $80,000 each to the Columbia Association, county schools and the county Recreation and Parks Department, officials estimate.
Mike Rethman, who represents the Village of Hickory Ridge, wants the council to put at least $2,500 into the reward fund.
Mr. Rethman also wants to broaden the criteria for getting reward money.
He said the requirement that tips lead "to the apprehension and conviction of vandals" might be too restrictive. He suggested that apprehension be the sole criterion.
Suzanne S. Waller, who represents Town Center, and S. Kenneth Puckett, who represents the Village of Dorsey's Search, disagreed.
Rewards for apprehension alone could fly in the face of "the presumption of innocence until proven guilty," Ms. Waller said.
And such rewards could encourage vandalism should one juvenile "set up another to get the money," Mr. Puckett said.
Hope Miller Sachwald of the Village of Harper's Choice agreed.
"Where reimbursement is involved, kids can be pretty creative," Ms. Sachwald said.
Mr. Puckett said the way to assure the reward becomes a deterrent is to "require the people responsible for the vandalism to pay the reward" and for repairs.
Norma Rose, the Wilde Lake representative, sought to allay fears that authorities are not taking vandalism seriously.
Representatives of the county state's attorney's office met with village officials and assured them they "have every intention of pursuing what in another context would be minor crimes," she said.
Council members said they would be willing to spend up to $2,500 in reward money if the criteria can be worked out to everyone's satisfaction.
Mr. Kennedy suggested that rather than asking the police to put up more money, the council should form a coalition with other vandalism victims, such as public agencies and private businesses.
"A whole partnership [of vandalism victims] can be built up," Mr. Kennedy said. "It's not a lot of money, but it could provoke a lot of people to get involved."
Police Chief Robey said a previous offer of a reward helped police nab those responsible for vandalism at the East Columbia library.
But despite a $5,000 reward offered by the Rouse Co., no one has been arrested for the painting of swastikas and other vandalism last February at a Harper's Choice photography shop owned by Russian Jewish immigrants.
Last night marked the second time in two weeks that the association has taken up the vandalism problem.
The council voted unanimously last week to give police the right to arrest trespassers at a tot lot in the Village of Owen Brown where carousing teen-agers have smashed bottles and thrown eggs at houses.
Bottle smashing also has been a problem at the ball field behind the East Columbia library in Owen Brown.
A year ago, 12 employees of the county Department of Recreation and Parks spent 10 hours removing 25 buckets of broken glass from the field.