A Neighborhood Improvement Journal - Summer 2021


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Graffiti Abatement and Management

by Lee Barnard

The removal of graffiti is of the utmost importance in cleaning up a community. We spend about $7 billion a year on graffiti removal, and this figure increases to $15 billion a year when we consider graffiti removal, law enforcement, court, and probation costs. Although taggers view their work as art, if you look around the city at the graffiti that is on the walls, garages, trashcans, and other surfaces, you will see a definite eyesore in your community.

In most police jurisdictions, graffiti abatement is the only means of contending with the graffiti because many police agencies do not have an active investigator to investigate these types of crimes. In investigating graffiti, the eradication of the graffiti is the initial stage to any graffiti investigation. Under the “Broken Windows” theory, we should never let the vandals think that it is okay to vandalize our neighborhoods. If one person or group of people vandalize a piece of property and the community does not seem to care, then another group is going to come along and vandalize the same property, then another and another, until now it has become increasingly more of an eyesore. Suspects of any crime are less likely to commit their crimes in neighborhoods where everyone seems to be watching other neighbor’s property and know that the residents of a certain community are more likely to contact the police if they commit the crime.

Starting a Graffiti Removal Program

The first part in starting a graffiti removal program is to acknowledge that there is a graffiti problem within your specific city or town. Convincing the city management might not be that difficult. If there is a significant graffiti problem, the residents of your city or township already will have voiced their opinions. Use the citizens in assisting you in developing your graffiti management program.

There is a cost in running a graffiti abatement program. Money seems to always be the battle in running a successful program. The cost will include any equipment, vehicles, and personnel used in the graffiti program. Any grant or funding available to the city is always one avenue of approach. The manpower used usually depends on the amount of graffiti involved.

RECORD: The first step in dealing with the graffiti is to record the graffiti. This includes the date that the graffiti was recorded. This step is very important for dealing with the issue “statute of limitations,” referring to the time you have to prosecute the vandal. It also helps in refreshing the vandal’s memory when being interviewed.
You can choose to document the graffiti whichever way is more comfortable for you; the camera used to take a photograph of the graffiti is your choice as well. You might choose to take photographs of only the monikers listed, as this is the most effective way of identification, however, the photograph of the gang or crew name is certainly not discouraged.

REMOVE: Once the graffiti is recorded, it then can be removed from the property either by painting, power washing, or sand blasting the graffiti from the surface.

REPORT: Last, you need to report it to your local law enforcement investigator or expert, if one is available. The residents in your community want to be involved, and most want to help their local law enforcement agency. The neighborhood watch groups and neighborhood councils are willing to help. They are a valuable source of information, especially for the activities that go on in their neighborhood in which they live. Neighborhood clean-up days are a great chance to remove some of the graffiti in the neighborhood. Check with your local businesses; you may be surprised by the effort to help you in your graffiti-eradication efforts. Businesses that sell building supplies and home improvement products may donate painting supplies or other supplies that will help the removal of graffiti.

Neighboring law enforcement agencies are also a good source of information and assistance. Many times, jurisdictions might share the same tagging crews and even gangs, therefore, they see the same graffiti. If funds are needed, you may consider writing a grant request or having someone do it for you. Your program proposals may include documentation supporting your plan, as well as letters of support. You should be able to get all kinds of support from residents to benefit your grant proposal.

Starting a Graffiti Management Program

As in any program, you need to follow the rules, and you need to follow them inherently, in order to have a successful program. Plan carefully your anti-graffiti policy. Know what you want to achieve and the resources available. An under-resourced program will have no lasting effect. Create a focal point for the program and generate local multi-agency support. Remove all graffiti and restore the neighborhood to its original pre-graffiti condition. Be professional and sympathetic. Do not create further eyesores by poor quality graffiti eradication. Provide fast response to new graffiti attacks. Tackle the problem in such a manner that the problem is not displaced elsewhere, and develop methods of deterring future graffiti attacks during the clean-up program. Identify the graffiti hardliners. Use the law where necessary. Do this in such a way that new recruits to the graffiti culture are actively discouraged.

During and after the clean-up program, encourage local interest and pride in the finished product. This must include a clearly defined attitude of zero tolerance and a local government policy for preventing or avoiding future attacks through good housekeeping practice. Encourage the planners to study methods of actually designing out the potential for graffiti and vandalism in public buildings at the time they are being designed or refurbished.

After the initial cleanup, leave behind a method of monitoring and fast response to new problems before they get out of hand again. Think in terms of a continuing perpetual program rather than a quick clean-up. Remember, graffiti is endemic in the human psyche and has been around for thousands of years. Think also of the people who are not part of anti-graffiti programs and remove graffiti and repair vandal damage as part of their daily routine.

Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design

Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) refers to altering environmental situations to deter or possibly prevent crime. This can include any crime, especially graffiti. To start this process, you need three things: 1) the hardware, 2) a rule book, or some sort of policies and procedures, and 3) the technical expertise.
One researcher known as Oscar Newman theorized that four situations needed to be addressed to deter criminal activity. These were massive buildings, multitude of exits, location in crime areas, and the “Broken Window Syndrome.”

Massive buildings, which are usually great for business in a particular jurisdiction, are usually a criminal nightmare for residents and the businesses. Things such as proper lighting need to be addressed. This includes parking lots and/or parking structures. The lighting as you approach the building needs to be stronger. This makes the patrons feel safe and when referring to vandals if they think they can be seen then there likely not to tag at that location. Let’s not assume that we are referring only to businesses. Many apartment and residential complexes suffer from criminal stigma, as well. The bigger the complex, the more thought you will have to consider for reducing criminal activity.
A multitude of entrances is a security nightmare. It must be understood that if we are talking about shopping malls, then the number of exits might be necessary for fire safety and convenience of the patrons. However, doing something for mere convenience is not always the safest approach. Consider a residential cul de sac. Although it is an inconvenience at times, as a resident of that street, it should be a lot easier to observe suspicious vehicles and people entering that street. This holds true for apartment complexes, as well.

There are four choices of situational crime prevention. First, you must increase the difficulty to commit the crime. This could be by a frequent police patrol in the area, or the environmental design, or other security measures. Second, increase the risk of getting caught; either by a surveillance, police patrol, proactive and aggressive neighborhood involvement. Third, remove the rewards. In other words, taggers tag for notoriety, so remove the graffiti immediately so that when they come back to show their friends, the graffiti is gone. Last, remove excuses and increase shame. Do not give vandals an excuse to tag a certain location, and when they do, increase their shame by removing it and expressing your intolerance to their act.

This CPTED has five defensible space components. First, facilitate territoriality. The citizens should claim their neighborhood, not the gang members and the taggers. Show a sense of pride in your neighborhood. Keep the neighborhood clean and especially free of graffiti. Graffiti places a notable decrease in property values and increases the resident’s fear in the neighborhood.

Second, facilitate surveillance. Natural surveillance includes the shrubs and the vegetation. Do not let the vegetation get over 3 feet high so that you cannot see behind the shrubs. Have wide open areas so that you and your neighbors have a clear view. Consider mechanical surveillance such as video cameras. A decoy camera is also a good option. But remember that with a decoy camera, if something serious happens, such as a rape, and the victim gets a false sense of security, you could open yourself up for a lawsuit. The advantage of a decoy camera for taggers is if there is a remote chance that they will get caught, they might go to another location. Lighting is a form of convenience for surveillance. When considering lighting, there is also the possibility of getting those lights broken by a vandal. So to defend against this, consider cages around the lights or cameras for that matter.

Third, reduce stigma. The best way to do this is to make your property aesthetically pleasing. To prevent graffiti on walls, consider types of vines that are pleasing to look at. Access control is another important way to reduce stigma. You can erect fences or barriers and also make your property pleasing to look at by possible future tenants. The barriers can deter or prevent loitering, which can reduce criminal activity.

Fourth, you need to be responsive to residents’ needs. The residents live in the neighborhood or may own businesses, and they have a right to voice their concerns. Listen to their complaints. However, you need to convince them that you cannot handle their problems alone; they must be part of the solution.

Last, avoid concentration of disadvantaged. You may consider territorial reinforcement; avoid any kind of space conflict. Any useless space can be beautified. Turn disadvantages into advantages. Remember, target hardening as a rule. Make any targets that are easy to be tagged, difficult to be tagged. Remember, image and maintenance are important.
Control the high ground and keep the advantage in order to defeat your local graffiti vandals. There are three things to consider in a crime, the victim, the suspect, and the location. Take one of them away and you remove the opportunity to commit the crime. Remember, graffiti is a crime of opportunity. As part of a graffiti program, your local businesses need to be involved in the graffiti-eradication efforts. The removal of graffiti needs to be immediate. This can be frustrating to businesses, especially a business that gets hit with graffiti daily or weekly. You may need to be empathetic to their needs and try to motivate them. Although police officers need to be empathetic to businesses, we also need to take a firm stance on graffiti. It must be understood that it is not law enforcement’s intent to re-victimize the graffiti victim but to clean up the community. That is why many laws and ordinances are set forth in relation to graffiti. One law may be directed toward businesses to lock and secure all spray paint. Not only does this prevent the stealing of spray paint, but it also makes it difficult and inconvenient for taggers to obtain their graffiti implement of choice. This ordinance is usually enacted by city or county legislation.

Many states have enacted laws that restrict the sale of aerosol spray paint to minors. Such an ordinance may be considered a public nuisance law and may get mixed reviews by the business community: this is the codified removal of graffiti from ones property. Should a business get fined for not removing their graffiti? With careful planning and cooperation between residents and law enforcement, graffiti abatement and management can be used to keep your community clean and to apprehend the vandals.


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