The stepped-up surveillance was implemented because of the sighting of a suspicious vehicle near the cemetery grounds last Saturday evening.
"One of our employees saw a car, and its occupants were acting suspiciously, and I felt that I needed to contact our security company," said Mark White, Union Cemetery district manager.
The additional coverage will cost the cemetery district an estimated $340 per night. How long the security will remain in place will be decided at a special board meeting this Friday evening.
"We are meeting to discuss the security and to inform the board of the situation," said White of the Jan. 25 meeting. "We will discuss the incident and how long we will have the guards for as we decide on a course for the future."
Police put estimates of the destruction, which occurred on Jan. 16, at a minimum of $6,000, and are asking for the public's help in locating those responsible for the felony crime.
Vandals damaged and destroyed over 60 headstones, some in the oldest part of the cemetery. They also broke the gate leading into Baby Land and damaged the canvas on the pergola - a canopy-like shade structure - also in the infant area. Over a dozen sprinkler heads were ripped out of several areas of the cemetery, and three fire extinguishers were discharged as well.
"It was a sickening sight, I'll tell you that," said Jimmy Lee, spokesman for the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Department. "From our perspective, it's a sad and disrespectful thing, especially given the history of the cemetery … We believe the improved security will help in a very dramatic way. It will make a huge difference."
White said empty beer bottles left behind might offer some leads.
"There was evidence of a party here," said White. "We don't know that the partiers did that (the vandalism). It might be two separate incidents. But it is a place to start."
The cemetery has been vandalized approximately four times in the past 25 years, but this time, said White, the damage was especially widespread and destructive.
"In the past there was very little damage done, just things getting knocked over, and then we would set them back up," said White. "But this time was different. When I parked my truck that morning, I looked into the old part of the cemetery and realized there were no big headstones on the horizon. That's when I called the police."
The families whose headstones were damaged or destroyed have been notified, but there are still some who cannot be located because of different last names, or families that have simply moved away.
"We've contacted as many as we know, and others have been calling in asking about the damage and where it was," said White.
The cost of replacing the ruined headstones will be taken care of by the cemetery, he added.
"The first $1,000 will be absorbed by the (cemetery) district," said White. "And then the insurance company pays for the rest. We are part of a risk management association that backs up the remainder of the costs."
Built in l878, the 9-acre cemetery sits on the border between Brentwood and Byron, and is the final resting place for some of the area's most prominent pioneer families, including the Prestons, who owned the cemetery property. One of the Preston family headstones was destroyed during the Jan. 16 break-in.
Francis Wilder, a survivor of the ill-fated Donner party and daughter of Capt. George Donner, is also buried there; her tombstone remains intact.
The original cemetery was located on Marsh Creek and Highway 4 on what is now Brentwood Boulevard. Those buried there were moved to the new cemetery shortly after it opened due to wintertime flooding and the cemetery's proximity to an elementary school.
The cemetery originally served the areas of Byron, Brentwood and Knightsen. Its service has expanded to include Discovery Bay, Bethel Island and the area east of Oakley.
Those with information regarding the vandalism are urged to call the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Crime Division at 313-2650.