Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Amarillo PD pressures businesses to file graffiti charges

When it comes to graffiti, the Amarillo PD does not consider forgiveness a virtue, reports the Globe-News ("Vandals mark city with graffiti," Aug. 21):

"We've had several cases over the last several years where the businesses have backed out of filing charges," [a police spokesman] said. "They forgave (the taggers). That'll teach 'em.

"We have to get organized and deal with (graffiti). Once we do catch them, please meet us halfway and file charges and stick with the charges."

Amarillo police sound more worked up over the issue than the crime victims, one of whom declared, "It's a shame people have to do that to get attention for their group ... Things happen. ... It's just a pain to have to deal with it." That person doesn't come off nearly so angry or vindictive as the police officer, who basically wants to punish somebody as harshly as possible to set an example.

I'm guessing, but possibly the reason folks won't press charges is that graffiti penalties are so high that victims don't believe the punishment is proportionate to the crime. They'd rather see no one prosecuted than have someone penalized too harshly. After all, when you start talking about felony charges that can ruin the rest of someone's life, who really thinks graffiti is worth that?

To err is human, said the poet, to forgive, Divine. Given the circumstances, with punishments for graffiti so over the top (the pictured graffiti, says the paper, will be prosecuted as a felony if they can find the perpetrators), do those business owners really deserve criticism for refusing to cooperate? Perhaps they realize something the Amarillo police spokesman doesn't?

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Speaking of graffiti, I often refer to graff artists as "kids" or "youth," because they usually are, but in Staten Island, NY police arrested what must be the oldest tagger in existence - 42 years old! "I've been doing this my whole life," he told the officers, though this was apparently his first arrest. (Now I'm sure authorities, as in Amarillo, will call for his harsh punishment on the grounds that jail is a deterrent.) Most taggers have outgrown the habit by sometime in their 20s, so you've got to give the fellow credit for persistence, at any rate.

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UPDATE: A new graffiti ordinance in San Angelo ("City moves forward on graffiti-cleaning ordinance," SA Standard Times, Aug. 21) will require property owners:
to make arrangements to clean graffiti off their properties -- even if it's through the free service soon to be provided by the city's Municipal Court.

The ordinance, aimed at counteracting an alarming increase in gang-related graffiti in recent months, would create the Municipal Court program, make arrangements for private-property owners to sign a waiver allowing city crews to clean vandalism, and prohibit anyone other than a parent or legal guardian from providing spray cans to anyone younger than 17. ...

Under the ordinance, city crews would clean graffiti on public property within seven days of notification, while private landowners would have 10 days to remove graffiti on their property before being issued a citation.

The city plans to distribute abatement and indemnification forms for residents to report graffiti and give permission for cleanup work on their property, said Municipal Court prosecutor Jason Jares, who crafted the ordinance.

I think San Angelo is getting this half right. To me, part of the answer must be publicly funded graffiti removal, as with the new Graffitibusters truck in Corpus Christi. (Though I'd prefer a faster response time than the seven days proposed in San Angelo.) However the ordinance as drafted would punish property owners who didn't report graffiti to the municipal court or pay to clean it up themselves.

That punishes the victims of crime in a way that doesn't seem justified. As one commenter at the Standard Times accurately put it, "If you're the city - it's a win/win deal. If you are the victim of a crime - it's a lose/lose deal." I think that's right. That's why I'd proposed offering municipal cleanup services, but without the coercion. Let the kids in juvenile probation work off their community service scrubbing walls. Why punish property owners for what criminals did to their property?

I suppose the concern is that some property owners will tolerate graffiti or that absentee property owners simply won't care. I don't know how to get around that hurdle without coercion - perhaps when the owner is unavailable, neighbors could be empowered to request graffiti removal. But punishing victims of crime seems small-minded given that law enforcement has itself found policing graffiti nearly impossible.

See Grits' recent series on graffiti solutions linked here.


Anonymous said...

Ever have your home graffiti'd. Not fun. Of course, in the good old days, the kid's old man would have whipped his ass, no record or anything like that. I would pity anyone I caught doing that to my house because the ass-whipping would be pretty bad.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Which begs the question - if you knew it would result in a felony conviction, would you insist on prosecution if someone graffiti'd your house? Is it worth ruining somebody's life, job prospects, etc., forever? Or would the ass whipping be enough?

Be sure to take a look at my actual proposal on graffiti - I think the main goal of graff policy should be to mollify business and homeowners with rapid cleanup NOT at the victim's expense, along with identifying spots where graffiti is tolerated. I'm not just saying they should get away with it. I just don't think making it a felony has helped matters. best,

Ted McLaughlin said...

The building in the picture that was defaced is designated as a historical site, and will cost up to $5000 to clean it up.

I really don't have a problem with the "tagger" who did it being charged with a crime.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

A crime or a felony? Is it worth a prison term?

Anonymous said...

Felony or not, you have to catch them first.

Anonymous said...

It is possible that a property owner might actually appreciate the work of a graffiti artist who has worked-out on the property owner's walls. Either because the property needed a new coat of paint, or because the owner considers the work to have merit of some sort. But Amarillo will not allow the property owner that option, apparently. Here is a way around it: Go to the tagger and pay him for his work; maybe get a release allowing the property owner to take photos and sell them. Two birds with one stone kind of thing: The artist is no longer in the position of having committed an offense, and neither is the property owner.

Anonymous said...

When does freedom of speech and expression come into the mix.

If an "artist" paints my property and I like the look; why can't I keep it. Who in San Angelo decides what is and is not graffiti?

Making graffiti a felony is a mistake. Texas can't tell the difference between a public safety issue and mischief.

Anonymous said...

Repeated graffiti instances, at some point, need to be punished. There are jerks who graffiti Latin Kings gang crap on public parks near where I live. After enough offenses, they need to go bye-bye for a while. Kind of like car theft. One car theft, you may want to keep the kid out of jail. Numerous ones, jail--or allow people who have had their car stolen to beat the crap out of him. I had my car broken into once. Would I want the guy to go to jail, no, would I want the ability to put him in the hospital, yes.

CapitolAnnex said...

This causes great concern:

"...to make arrangements to clean graffiti off their properties -- even if it's through the free service soon to be provided by the city's Municipal Court."

Assuming the "free service" involves people on community service, would this not be an improper and illegal use of government resources for the gain of private individuals, unless the person removing the graffiti was the one who tagged it in the first place and was specifically sentenced to remove it?

Anonymous said...

It's already a trial-free capital felony, because I have the right to use deadly force at night to prevent the consequences of theft.

There have been more than just a few no-bill executions in Texas

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Vince, why does that cause you concern? The state pays to catch and prosecute graffiti offenders on behalf of property owners (i.e., crime victims), and that's much more expensive than cleanup.

Most graff writers aren't caught, so long punishments don't do much. The real punishment is rapid erasure of their work in uninvited spots. And for that the central government must get involved, it can't be dumped on private landowners (who didn't ask for the unwelcome paint job). I don't see them as benefiting, per se, simply being made whole.

If you don't think graffiti should be punished, that's one thing. But if you do, that's the government's job, and it's a more effective punishment to rapidly remove the tags. best,

Anonymous said...

I live in San Angelo and I feel like I sholud be able to have whatever I want painted on at my residence.not to be told its grafetti that needs to be removed. Its art to me. I dont try telling the business' downtown the paintings and ugly sheep they have around town need to be removed.everyone has different taste.

Anonymous said...

As an officer with the APD I have to say that vindictiveness is not our problem. We don't write the laws. The frustration stems from the citizenry demanding we put a stop to this yet by not following through they basically are wasting theirs and our time every time they call to report the offense. The majority of tagging going on in Amarillo is gang related and the x-ing out of tags or the tagging of property on rival gang turf leads to violence. This maybe the reason for the legislature making a property crime a high level offense. Either way we can only work with the laws te state gives us