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Constable's Notebook - January 2008

By all accounts graffiti vandalism is more prevalent than ever nationally and will cause more than $8 billion in damage this year to public, business and residential property. According to Tony Casarez, program coordinator for the Austin Graffiti Abatement Program, reported graffiti cases in Austin during the last five years have increased four-fold to more than 15,000 this year. Texas law makes it a crime to “intentionally or knowingly make markings with aerosol paint, indelible marker or an etching or engraving device on tangible property without consent of the owner.” Penalties for graffiti vandalism range from a Class B misdemeanor to a first degree felony depending on the amount of loss suffered by a property owner and what was vandalized. It is also a Class C misdemeanor offense in Texas and most states to sell spray paint to a minor.

Graffiti experts have identified four main types of graffiti – tagging, satanic/hate, gang, and generic (non-threatening messages like "Bobby loves Suzy" or "Class of 2007"). Tagging graffiti tends to be more ornate while gang graffiti uses symbols. Gang graffiti is used to mark gang territory, list members, offer drugs or contraband for sale, or send warnings to rivals. It may include letters, symbols, or numbers known only by gangs and law enforcement. Ideological or hate graffiti is any racial, religious, or cultural slur. The National Council to Prevent Delinquency reports that about 80% of graffiti is tagger graffiti. Nationally, gang graffiti represents only about 10% of all graffiti. Graffiti vandals represent every social, ethnic and economic background. Suburban males from pre-teen to their early 20s commit approximately about half of all graffiti vandalism.

Every professional I have referenced for this article agrees that the most effective strategy to discourage graffiti vandalism is to immediately remove the graffiti. Graffiti vandals want their work to be seen and swift removal tends to defeat their purpose and causes them to move on to areas that put up less resistance. Austin City ordinance requires property owners to remove graffiti within 30 days. The Austin Youth Development Project (854-4125) will come and remove graffiti within 24 to 48 hours at no charge. The City of Austin also makes available paint and brushes for neighborhood associations that wish to organize graffiti rapid response teams. Interestingly, another strategy that has proven effective is to turn a graffiti- plagued wall into a mural. For whatever reason, murals are rarely disturbed and can be a good way to involve young artists in our community.

The Austin Police Department employs a single detective whose responsibility is to investigate graffiti vandalism. Detective Kevin Bartles strongly urges that every graffiti incident be photographed and reported. The use of surveillance cameras in hot spots is encouraged. Any information and photos regarding patterns of types of graffiti, locations of graffiti and descriptions of any suspicious looking characters should be reported to Detective Bartles at 974-5531 or Kevin.Bartles@ci.austin.tx.us. He is also available to speak to neighborhood and civic organizations.



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