6 Strategies for Combating Graffiti in Your Community

by Jan Fletcher on October 28, 2011
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Communities across the U.S. are seeing a surge in graffiti, with vandals’ scrawls appearing on walls and other property from coast to coast. The city of Los Angeles alone removed 35.4 million square feet of graffiti during its fiscal year ended June 30, an 8.2 percent increase over the previous year, The New York Times reports. When you consider that’s the equivalent to 800 football fields in size, the scope of the problem comes squarely into view. What’s a small business to do?

Here are six strategies for effectively combating graffiti in your neighborhood.

  1. Remove it as quickly as possible. Rapid response is the most effective way to reduce the frequency of tagging, and because some paints may harden over time, it’s best to clean a surface as soon as a defacing is discovered. Some municipalities offer free convenient, nontoxic, soy-based wipes to volunteers, who use them, along with a little elbow grease, to remove some spray paint graffiti. When perpetrators see that their tags are gone within 24 to 48 hours, the incidence of neighborhood graffiti declines — and the community captures a psychological victory, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior. Some communities even arm government employees with these graffiti wipes: A firefighter in Imperial County, Calif., received a Person of Character and Kindness Award for removing more than 2,000 tags from public property.
  2. Photograph tags before you remove them. Some local law-enforcement agencies can bring felony charges against repeat offenders who leave identifying clues in their artwork. Ask your local police department if you should send the police a photo and report of the graffiti, before it is removed. A nascent movement afoot in some communities uses crowdsourcing to report graffiti via GPS-enabled smartphones. In Portland, Ore., merchants may use an iPhone app to send a photo report on graffiti directly to city maintenance crews. The Los Angeles Unified School District is preparing to roll out a mobile-phone app that allows crowdsourced reporting of vandalism.
  3. Avoid overly aggressive removal efforts. Your investment in signage may be sizable. Be aware that some paint-removal techniques and agents damage signs and the protective films that cover them. If necessary, hire help: Sign shops frequently offer professional repair services.
  4. Check out Community Oriented Policing Services. This U.S. Department of Justice office provides grants and other assistance to communities fighting graffiti. Its resources include the publication Community Policing Dispatch, whose 2010 article “Getting a Grip on Graffiti” is worth a read.
  5. Maintain a well-lit environment. Lush landscaping may provide cover for criminal activity after sundown. Investing in programmable outdoor and indoor lights puts a damper on graffiti — and also helps to deter more serious crimes.
  6. Get involved in delinquency-prevention efforts. Both the paint industry and the National Council to Prevent Delinquency have helped communities draft laws to restrict the sale of paint and wide-tipped markers to juveniles.
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