Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Graffiti: A New City-Community Partnership to Clean Up City

by Janine Gates

Above: This stop sign shows signs of having been cleaned.

Amy Stull, City of Olympia Police Community Programs staff, revealed a proposed city-community graffiti busting partnership at a public meeting of the Olympia Coalition of Neighborhood Associations last week at the Downtown Fire Station.

The partnership with public and private entities has been in the works for about two years. It is an exciting effort to address the difficult problem of graffiti.

"The Northeast Neighborhood Association has been a case study on how to best organize and maintain a graffiti reporting and abatement program," says Stull. Stull provided the group with an overview of the city’s new enhanced graffiti tracking information, available at www.seeclickfix.com.

The city has also established a new graffiti hotline, and the city police department will have the responsibility of contacting the appropriate person who should clean it up.

Graffiti has become an increasing problem in Olympia. Etching of glass has also occurred. “We weren’t doing a good job of tracking graffiti. It wasn’t being logged and it was extremely labor intensive for a neighborhood to take pictures of graffiti and to clean up,” says Stull.

It is sometimes confusing who’s responsibility that would be, so partners include Puget Sound Energy (PSE) and Qwest, because taggers often target traffic signal boxes and utility property. Representatives from those organizations also attended the meeting and spoke about their efforts. "The graffiti makes us look bad too," said Casey Cochran, PSE Communications Manager.

Above: A power equipment box on 9th Ave. SW near Capital Mall.

“Tagging,” as it is called, is a crime. The best defense against graffiti is to clean it up. Taggers do not get satisfaction when their work is painted over or removed. The city says it is very important to document the vandalism by taking pictures, and documenting the time that the vandalism occurred so authorities can investigate the crime.

If the graffiti is on private property, the owner is responsible for clean up,” city code enforcement officer Chris Grabowski said. “We’re the last resort for graffiti clean up. There are only three of us for the city - one for the Westside, one for downtown, and one for the Eastside - so it will take about a month for a code enforcement action to get results on a graffiti case,” said Grabowski. Grabowski explained the process for enforcement and penalties for continued disregard for city notifications.

“In general, neglect of property will attract all sorts of crime,” said Stull. Something will happen, Stull says, “if it looks like you don’t care, or no one is watching.”

Neighborhood association members commented on an example of one partnership, as an example of how citizens can work with businesses to address mutual issues of concern. Abbey Realty provided the Northeast neighborhood paint in exchange for regular monitoring and painting over of a frequently tagged fence on an undeveloped parcel that they own.

Asked why graffiti is left up for so long, Grabowski said the biggest reason is because the property owners are absentee landowners. Number two, the elderly or disabled might not realize their fence, for example, has been tagged, because they don’t get out very often. And, Grabowski says, "a lot of property owners are dragging their feet because they have already painted over it three or four times and they’re sick of going it.”

Stull showed the group some slides of local graffiti and explained the difference between gang graffiti and regular graffiti. Only 10% of local graffiti is gang-related. Sometimes, having a mural painted on a troublesome wall will solve the problem. Stull also recommends not having a plain, gray wall looking ready to tag, and suggested painting it a different color.

The city’s Public Works department also provides free graffiti removal kits to recognized neighborhood associations and Block Watch neighborhoods.

Rick Knostman, City of Olympia traffic and operations supervisor under the public works program, oversees signs and signals. Knostman said it costs the city about $12,000 a year to clean up stop signs alone. In 2007-2008, the city had to replace 2,400 stop signs, more than 50% due to vandalism. The average stop sign should last 10 years under normal conditions. The stop signs need to be cleaned professionally, due to minimum reflectivity requirements. Each time a stop sign is cleaned, it loses a little bit of its reflectivity.

Don Law, neighborhood representative for the East Bay Neighborhood Association, credit’s the mural along East Bay Drive as solving their most troublesome spot for vandalism.

Above: Mural on East Bay Drive.

Rhonda Ayers, Program Coordinator for Community Youth Services (CYS), says she is excited about this new city-community partnership to fight graffiti. “We just received stimulus money to start a new youth program from May 1 through the end of August to employ 25 youth so they will give back to the community.” The money became available to CYS under the federal Workforce Investment Act.

“Under supervision, the youths will work part time, possibly fulltime, cleaning up the city of graffiti, and doing some landscaping and maintenance. Anytime we can engage our youth in constructive activities, the less recidivism we’ll see. They can take pride,” says Ayers.

Above: A mural in downtown Olympia depicts scenes from the annual Procession of the Species.

For more information and to find out how you can get more involved in cleaning up your neighborhood, contact Amy Stull, Police Community Programs, Olympia Police Department as (360) 753-8049 or astull@ci.olympia.wa.us.

1 comment:

  1. Janine,

    Thank you so much for the link and the recognition of our visions. We are fortunate to live in a community that is supportive and willing to embrace the youth we work with. I see so much potential in this community connection especially for our youth that have never felt connected to anyone yet alone their community. Thank you again for your support.

    Rhonda Ayers
    Transitional Housing Program Coordinator
    (360) 943-0780 ext. 103