Saturday, December 20, 2008

Wichita Falls punishing victims of graffiti crime

Wichita Falls is the latest city to declare a "zero tolerance" policy for graffiti (which one imagines will work about as well as the "zero tolerance" policy regarding contraband on death row) aimed entirely at punishing the victims of graffiti crime instead of solving the problem:
property owners will first receive written notice. Then they'll have 15 days to either take care of the graffiti themselves --- or pay 50 dollars for the city to clean it up. If nothing is done, the property owner will be fined 150 dollars and the city will remove it.
The TV news story about the new ordinance demonstrates a bizarre disconnect where the city council's punitive view toward graffiti is misplaced toward property owners, who as crime victims are not given the least consideration:
Councilors Michael Smith and Dorothy Roberts-Burns wanted the fee to be lowered from 50 dollars to 25. But the other councilors voted to keep it at 50. “I concur with Councilor Ginnings, in that the lower you make the fee – the closer it gets to zero – then it becomes just an entitlement,” said Councilor Rick Hatcher. “People think, ‘I’m supposed to get the city to do that for me.’” One Wichita Falls Business owner said the city must crack down. “It’s embarrassing to me, when I bring people to invest in our city,” said Rick Graham. “Specifically, the Hotter ‘N Hell bike race – we have graffiti all over the place, that’s been there for 15 years!”
This to me is a bizarre set of opinions to hold all in the same head. Councilor Ginnings said, "the closer it gets to zero – then it becomes just an entitlement," but the property owner is a crime victim, not the offender.

Why shouldn't taxpayer dollars be used to paint over unwanted graffiti? The city is perfectly willing to use taxpayer funded police to arrest graff writers, the jail to incarcerate them, the courts to prosecute them, etc.. All that costs a lot more money than just cleaning up the graffiti would, so why is there such resistance on the council to treating crime victim restoration as an "entitlement"?

At the same time, business owners are complaining about graffiti that's been there 15 years. You could fine every business owner in town and that graff will still be on the wall until the day they clean it up. Why delay that improvement or put the financial onus on the property owner when a) they're the crime victim and b) the city is acting based in the public interest, thus justifying expense of public funds?

Besides, lots of cities have fine regimens for graffiti like Wichita Falls has created and that approach has hardly resulted in a "zero tolerance" atmosphere - it just gives city government another income stream from fining local property owners for things that aren't their fault.

The real solution and the most effective punishment for graffiti is not fines for property owners or incarceration for graff writers but simply rapid cleanup. If graffiti vanishes immediately and graff writers can't admire their work the next day, that's the strongest disincentive a city can create for wall writers and the best way to reduce graffiti as opposed to simply playing cat and mouse with taggers for years on end.

I continue to believe rapid cleanup (combined with establishing public spaces for invited graff) has the potential to actually reduce uninvited graffiti, whereas both punishing crime victims and spending tons of police resources chasing phantom-like graff writers will continue to fail to address the crux of the problem.


Anonymous said...

Is it just me or does anyone else think that people largely just don't have a whole lot to do with their time? Both the graffitiers and those who seek to put them jail. People really do need to get a life. Just an opinion.

Anonymous said...

8:47, graffiti is not just a time-waster for the graff artists, it's almost always gang activity. It's not just about "getting a life," but about preserving lives. Gangs are deadly. Graffiti invites more graffiti, which in turn draws gangsters in. The cycle has to be broken somehow.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"it's almost always gang activity"

This is a false assumption that misunderstands the problem and causes those who make it to rush too quickly to criminal enforcement measures instead of functional solutions. There are also many dabblers and graffiti "crews" that aren't gangs in the sense of crips and bloods but merely friends who tag together. (In Corpus Christi, police at one point claimed to have identified 32 such crews with more than 100 total people in them.)

There is certainly overlap with criminal street gangs but whether that's the dominant faction differs widely from city to city. That's certainly not true in Austin, for example, though it's much more the case in parts of SA.

And even where it's true, so what? Jacking up criminal penalties certainly hasn't stopped graffiti. That's been tried, and tried, and tried. What does it matter if it's gang generated or not? Why do you think that implies the VICTIM of the crime should be punished?

I agree "The cycle has to be broken somehow," but criminalizing victims isn't the right way to go. Rapid cleanup actually solves the problem with fewer negative unintended consequences.

Anonymous said...

The more I read the news and blogs the more I am reminded what arrogant dumb asses many of our elected officials are. In the unforgettable words of my momma, "Stupid is as stupid does."

Forrest Gump

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I found a statistic on the portion of graffiti caused by gangs in Austin:

Here's a clip from 2007 citing police sources who say criminal street gangs accounted for just 15-20% of Austin's graffiti. That ratio may be higher in some jurisdictions, but there's nowhere in Texas where it's true that "it's almost always gang activity."

Anonymous said...

As someone who lives in Wichita Falls, I can assure you that the majority of grafitti is gang related.

Individuals that believe that the solution to the problem is cleaning up after the vandals have absolutely no clue.

Cleaning the grafitti simply provides them a new slate.

Anonymous said...

If the city can't control this activity, it sure should not make the property owner/victim, pay to clean it up. If the city can't control crime, it should pay to have it covered.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

So what's your solution, 1:00, besides naysaying and whining about it?

Anonymous said...

How would you like to stay up all night, work hard to create graffiti, take the risk of getting cought and going to jail and then discover the next day that your efforts had been painted over?

Rapid cleanup of graffiti is far more effective than any other tactic including "Zero Tolerance and Fines for Victims".

Even gangs will eventually give up when their territory marking efforts do not result in long term results.

Don't knock it if you havn't tried it! Graffiti clean up is an excellent tactic to fight the nagative effects on a city's appearance.

Anonymous said...

Grits, I know many gang members that would love you!!

Grafitti is nothing more than an alternative name to Criminal Mischief!

I say we do away with the term grafitti altogether since so many touchy feely liberals try to glamorize it.

Anonymous said...

I'm just brainstorming here, but is there a substantive due process claim here for the business owners (is penalizing crime victim rationally related to a legitimate government interest)? Or am I conflating the test--I didn't look it up.
Or maybe a Fifth Amendment takings clause claim? (Again, no research, it's Saturday).

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I'm not glamorizing graffiti, 4:01, I'm suggesting a way to reduce it instead of just demagoguing about it.

Ryan Paige said...

I think Wichita Falls is on to something. Perhaps we can find more areas to charge the victims of crime for various enforcement services. Maybe robbery victims have to pay the court costs of the trial. Maybe murder victims have to have their estates pay for autopsies and other testing.

We could really cut some fat out of the budget while also likely clearing a lot of our overcrowded court dockets and overcrowded prisons (at least until the victims don't pay their fines and are sent to jail themselves).

Anonymous said...

It all just seems like finger pointing to me. Can't the city officials just take some responsibility and do the job that needs to be done? Just cut your loses and clean it up already. Do we really always have to have someone to blame and pay for everything?

Anonymous said...

I agree that immediately cleaning up the graffiti (on the government dime) would discourage much of it.

The New York City Subway system is an interesting case study of this.

in the 1980s subway users had greatly declined - and the city wanted to find out what to do to bring them back. At the time, the interiors of the subway cars were completely covered with graffiti, as were all the interiors of the subway stations.

They did surveys and found out that the graffiti made people feel that the subway was unsafe and things were out of control, so they stopped using it (it's the fastest way to get around NYC so these people were making a sacrifice of time due to their fear).

The city began cleaning the subway cars of graffiti every night - inside and outside.

They began renovating all the subway stations, which had not been fixed up in years. Installed public art, restored the original Beaux Arts tile in many, had neighborhood kids create tile for others, et cetera.

The result was a huge public return to the subways. There is very little graffiti there now. Some frustrated graffiti artists took to using adhesive stickers and putting them up with their graffiti written on the sticker. I think this is actually where the term "tagging" comes from - what happened in NYC. These sticker tags are usually placed on advertising posters - so they remain longer than the paint graffiti which is removed every night.

Much less people put up graffiti to begin with when the stations were beautifully renovated and displayed public art. There seems to be an appreciation of the nice stations.

Again, you do occasionally seem some white adhesive stickers with graffiti on them posted.

I actually kind of like these stickers - they show a real determination to be creative. They are also easy to remove.

Occasionally you do see very ornate graffiti art - obviously done by a talented artist. This is usually painted places where it improves the appearance of a location. Another issue ...

Now New York City is the safest big city in the world.

Anonymous said...

ryanpaige ~ I heard during the Presidential election, that Sarah Palin had wanted to make rape victims pay for their own rape kits (of course it could have been hear-say). Is that the kind of thing you had in mind?

Wichita Falls could try having designated walls, areas, where graffitti is tollerated (encouraged?) that get over-painted twice a year, but anywhere else that is tagged would be cleaned up immediately. I agree, it's not all gang-related. Imagine a budding artist, who longs for a large canvas but because they are only 14 and dont have enough money for paint and canvas, they decide to go for the paint. Do you want to criminalise that artist immediately, or do you want to recognise the potential and find a way to help them achieve something positive in their lives through art? By providing a handful of permitted spaces for graffitti, you are covering both bases.

FleaStiff said...

Whether graffiti is done by gang members or gang-wannabes is irrelevant. Its an activity engaged in by those who ally themselves as enemies of good public order and discipline. They have no respect for private property, they attack the police and they attack other groups in the neighborhood with their slogans.
Making business owners suffer will only increase the confrontations between property owners and spray painters. It is simply a matter of forced escalation. I look forward to reports of the next armed confrontation between a property owner and a gang wannabe.

Graffiti fines against property owners is not much different from any code enforcement that burdens businesses in depressed areas. Its a tax on those who are attempting to assert independence.

Anonymous said...

Charles Kiker says:

My solution to the graffiti problem? Have a special, heavily armed graffiti patrol. You catch someone spraying a wall, gun them down on the spot. Leave the blood spattered wall as a reminder of what happens to graffiti artists. That would solve the problem in short order. Should we go there?

Anonymous said...

I'm not glamorizing graffiti, 4:01, I'm suggesting a way to reduce it instead of just demagoguing about it.

Explain to me how cleaning up after the vandals reduces graffiti.
Simply put, it doesn't. At the end of the day, consequences is the answer to the problem. Imposing consequences on victims is just as ridiculous as not imosing consequences on the person resonsible for the graffiti.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"Explain to me how cleaning up after the vandals reduces graffiti.
Simply put, it doesn't."

Are you stoned?

Here's how it works: Vandal puts graffiti on wall. City cleans it up, therefore less graffiti is on the wall.

Now let's guesstimate police arrest one person for every 500 acts of graffiti (it's actually probably less than that in most places). Even after an arrest, that does nothing about the graffiti that person already put up or that others might do because the chances of getting caught are so low (even if the rare people caught are charged with a felony). If the town cleans none of it up, they will have much more graffiti visible than if cleanup is the priority.

How is that not obvious?

The idea is to prevent the vandals from getting what they want, even if it's not possible to arrest them. The purpose of graffiti is to be seen - essentially the same motivation that causes monied philanthropists to want buildings, rooms, and other public accoutrements named after them. So, since arrests are rare and not a serious deterrent, rapid cleanup thwarts the taggers' goal for their graff to "ride" (i.e, for nobody to clean it up) for days or weeks on end.

Just like donors are more likely to give big bucks if they get to have their name prominently displayed on a building, taggers are more likely to assume the risks involved with the practice when the results will be seen by their intended audience. That's true of both gang graffiti and all other varieties.

Having answered your question, why don't you tell me why high penalties and an exclusive focus on criminal enforcement haven't reduced graffiti? Do you have an answer? If that tactic worked, there'd be no need to talk about cleanup.

Anonymous said...

I am whole heartedly behind these city fathers fining those property owners claiming to be victims. I'm starting a movement here in our city to force property owners to fill in those unsightly bullet holes left by drive by shooters!

Anonymous said...

I live in Wichita Falls and our city council if filled with many non-thinking, rich bureaucrats who think they are above all. Store owners are struggling to get by now and if they have to continually pay to remove graffiti at even $25.00 a pop, some of them will not make it.

We already have lost three big companies with total job losses of over 1000 jobs just in the last few months.

Those on the City Council need to get a life and stop this nonsense. The areas should be policed at night and if more policemen are needed hire them.

Remember, I live, I grew up here and I know all of the City Council members and they just sit there and pass laws and do not even think about what happens to the people who live and some do not care. Boy, can't wait to unseat some of these people!!!

Anonymous said...


You still have a problem grasping this issue grits...The problem is not grafitti, the problem is those responsible for the grafitti. Yes, cleanup is a short term solution until those responsible strike again, and they do.

To imply that that those delinquents will become so frustrated with our clean up efforts, that it will reduce grafitti is silly at best.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

You can LOL all you want but you're dead wrong - from the crime victim's perspective, the problem is the graffiti. And from the graff artist's perspective, rapid cleanup is a bigger deterrent than arrest.

Read the account of 9:34 about graffiti in NYC city subways - rapid cleanup does work, whereas Wichita Falls with its 15-year old graffiti on downtown buildings is the perfect example of what you get from an enforcement-only approach.

Just because you're in denial about how utterly and completely current policies have failed doesn't mean repeating them will be any more effective.

Anonymous said...


Come on, look up the definition of artist and then please explain how these thugs can be labeled artist!

The majority of the grafitti in Wichita Falls is 'VC' or 'PLM' both local gangs that have a history of violence.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Re: Whether graffiti is art - it all depends. That term doesn't apply to gang graff, but how else would you describe the graffiti depicted here? Or here? Or here?

In any event, it doesn't matter what you call it, rapid cleanup works better than incarceration if the goal is to reduce graffiti.

Anonymous said...

You are comparing apples to oranges. That is not the type of graffiti that laws target. I am sure that grafitti was not completed at 2:00 in the morning and furthermore that is not the grafitti that the Wichita Falls council is trying to clean up.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I'm not comparing apples and oranges, I'm just noticing that both are fruit.

123txpublicdefender123 said...

Talk about being hard-headed and stubborn. Rapid cleanup is by far the best solution/deterrent to a grafitti problem. Research has shown this to be true. Certainly, those who are caught tagging should face the appropriate criminal consequences. But, approaching this solely from a criminal enforcement perspective will NEVER solve this problem.

People like the person who I assume was the same anonymous poster arguing with Grits will never get it. They will continue to believe that criminal enforcement is the only solution no matter how much evidence is presented that shows otherwise, because that is what fits into their moral worldview. It has nothing to do with reality. They don't like that the #1 tool isn't to make the bad guys suffer the consequences.

Anonymous said...

Spoken like a public defender!!

Anonymous said...

Gosh, I'm a business owner. Do you suppose I can get taxpayers to pay for video cameras for my store? How about for the off duty security I have to hire because I'm in a high criome area?

The city has already told me I can't turn on my gas pump until I first collect money.

And to you Mr. Paige, I suppose I should be charged each time I have to call the police because my store was burglarized or one of my clerks was robbed at gunpoint. And I guess you want to charge sex assault victims, child victims and the likes to. You arrogant ass, you sound like an insurance agent.

And Sunray's Wench, the side of your house or whatever you live in would be a great place to start tagging.

Anonymous said...

There was plenty of grafitti on the Berlin Wall. The wall came down. No more grafitti on the Wall.

Sometimes, grafitti is a form of protest for those who feel they have no other voice.

Red Leatherman said...

Here is one example of how graffiti was dealt with. I was growing up on the North side of Dallas County and one of the rites of passage was to tag the wall on Forest Lane.
I don't recall how long the wall is, been a while but suffice to say "damn long wall"
I don't know who or why but one or more schools got some paint and did a mural that may be still there, I know I saw it was there after more than 20 years.
Here in Fort Worth They will give paint to Victims although the color choices are few. and I have seen a mural or two around here I believe I heard it was done in the spirit of graffiti abatement.
I love the murals.

Anonymous said...

Funny we have a lady in our rv park who paints everything gold. Is this considered graffiti? It's an eyesore in the neighborhood and needs to be cleaned up. It is in the city limits of wichita falls. Why arent they doing something about it?

Graffiti Task Force said...

There is a simple solution to the graffiti problem, and it need not be a burden on the taxpayers. The solution is condoned by the U.S. Supreme Court (1970).

Anonymous said...

I am a city councilman in the D/FW area. In our city (pop 170,000) we have a graffitti abatement team that soda blasts graffitti as soon as it is reported to us. The theory that taggers will not replace it is a sound one. We have very small "re-tagging" rates, and the instances of being tagged for a third time are practically nil.

Immediate abatement works! Our citizens are glad to cover the minimal cost of this service from out general fund.

Graffiti Task Force said...

In Minneapolis, MN, immediate abatement does not work. Truth is, it's an illusion. Landowners are not glad, and the cost of removal is not minimal. Perhaps the Wichita Council has more intelligence than those who run the City of Minneapolis.

The City tracked 12,531 graffiti crimes in 2009, an increase over 2008. The City Attorney charged only 43, a decrease from 2008. All others went unpunished. City staff harassed landowners and forced them to incur $6.9 million to clean up the mess left behind by vandals.

A tax-free solution does exist. It offers a police investigator a tool when there is no eye-witness. A simple change in the law would allow a peace officer to qualify as an expert to offer testimony that identifies who is responsible for the graffiti. Keep in mind, though, that a street cop would not qualify. It must be a higher-up who is "authorized to approve the charge".

The Minneapolis Council refuses to let police identify unseen graffiti vandals in court. They prefer to let the unseen vandals play Hide-n-Seek, forcing landowners to remove the do-do. "Immediate abatement" gives citizens the illusion of free money. Unfortunately, the price of free always increases.

The only solution to the graffiti menace is to enable a trained investigator, who is a step or two above the street cop, to identify the unseen graffiti vandal in an informal hearing.