Thursday, October 29, 2009

Fort Worth seeks non-punitive alternatives on graffiti

Fort Worth police have been fighting graffiti for years, but despite their best efforts, graff has exploded since 2005, reports the Star-Telegram. The "city cleaned up more graffiti last year than it has in the previous five years." The volume of graff simply outpaces law enforcement's ability to arrest and prosecute, with a 62% increase in graffiti incidents just in city parks, but just a handful of prosecutions:
The Parks Department cleaned up 7,633 sites in fiscal 2009, mostly using money from the city’s sales tax devoted to crime prevention. That’s an increase from 7,586 sites the year before and 4,710 in 2005. It’s historically been difficult to catch and prosecute taggers and graffiti vandals, though. Police reported 59 juvenile cases and 16 adult cases in 2009.
Given how much graffiti occurs and how seldom perpetrators are caught and prosecuted, clearly solutions must come from other quarters besides law enforcement, so I'm glad to see Fort Worth seeking more non-punitive, education-based solutions:

Long term, it’s less expensive to prevent the problem, Assistant Parks Director Melody Mitchell said. The Parks Department and Fort Worth schools are using curriculum developed by the Keep America Beautiful Foundation in after-school programs. Between 2,500 and 3,000 students in grades three to five have gone through the program.

For older students, city officials are developing an educational program for first-time offenders.

The city has also included money for outdoor murals in this year’s public art program, with the belief that young people are less likely to vandalize walls and buildings that already have art on them.

Moncrief and other council members pressed city employees to be more creative. Moncrief suggested working with utility companies to help spot vandalism. Councilman Sal Espino suggested that the educational programs include material about historical buildings.

"I think if the kids learned the history of these buildings, it would go along with what Keep America Beautiful is teaching," he said.

Increasing money for outdoor murals, in particular, should help displace graffiti, as will expanded after-school programming for youth, whether the Keep America Beautiful curriculum or more traditional activities. IMO the next step should be to create a system to promote invited graff in underutilized public spaces or where property owners don't object. Nothing will "solve" the problem in the near term - it can only be managed - but current approaches don't appear to be making a dent, and boosting penalties hasn't helped.

That's why I'm glad to see at least one Texas city looking to solutions beyond arrest and incarceration for this common, non-violent offense. It'll be interesting to watch how well Fort Worth's new programs work compared to other jurisdictions. Enforcement is important, but it's just one leg of the stool. It works best combined with rapid cleanup of uninvited graffiti and the proliferation of acceptable artistic and social outlets for youth.

See related Grits posts:


Anonymous said...

They going to tag their territory. This ain't art.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Not all graff is gang tagging. In fact, by volume most is not. That false assumption is part of why the enforcement-only approach fails so miserably.

Anonymous said...

Grits said

"...I'm glad to see Fort Worth seeking more non-punitive, education-based solutions"

I don't know how they handle graffiti ( I didn't see much of it when I was there), but if you have ever driven in Mexico, you will see a great example of this education-based solution in their traffic signs. Here in Texas, we get the swaggering Don't Mess with Texas messages posted on city billboards, whereas in Mexico, they use moral persuation, with signs that encourage drivers to think about thier family members that drive with them, etc... appeals to the heart- at least that's what my translator told me.

One other note... Mexico uses alot of speedbumps that forces cars to slow down, rather than CCTV traffic cameras designed to increase Boss Hogg City revenues.

Soronel Haetir said...

Too bad corporal punishment has gone out of style. A few public whippings would likely do a lot more than sending kids through education programs. Plus you can just turn the offender loose afterward rather than keeping them incarcerated.

Anonymous said...

Soronel Haetir

So you want us to be like Singapor, and do public caneings.


WWSAD said...

What Whould Saudi Arabia Do?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

RE: What would Saudi Arabia do?

Answer: Put up graffiti walls for youth.

PirateFriedman said...

Ok, i looked through your posts and did not see any links to any evidence that ivited graf areas work. Maybe you've put them up but I just can't see them.

Have you ever even seen evidence this idea will work? What's the cost and how much graf will be prevented?

My gut feeling is this is a bad idea.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Pirate, I have suggested invited graff as just ONE element in a three part strategy that also includes enforcement and rapid cleanup. None of them by themselves are a cure-all, but if you discourage graff where you don't want it and encourage it where it's invited, you maximize the desired outcomes.

Nobody I'm aware of has tried the approach I've suggested in quite that way so no data is available, but anecdotally invited murals are often used by cities to deter graff, just as Fort Worth is doing. That's a proven method. I'm just suggesting taking that tactic a couple of steps further.

If you want data, though, we do have great data for the enforcement-only approach - the amount of graffiti increases every year and only a handful of people are prosecuted compared to the ocean of wall writing that goes on. Rapid cleanup is a better strategy than straight up enforcement, but really IMO you need all three.

Anonymous said...

This is a total lack of respect of individuals personal property. Only an idiot or liberal would condone such behavior.

Taggers are no less criminals than your every day gang banger, they are just more talented.

This 'if you can't beat'em, join'em' mentatlity is ridiculous!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

7:34: How does promoting invited art and discouraging uninvited graff promote a "lack of respect of individuals personal property"? That makes no sense at all.

Anonymous said...

How many people are being prosecuted for invited art?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

None, 9:18. That's the point - to promote legal instead of illegal behavior.

Alan said...

Sometimes I wonder how much real difference there is between a tagger putting his brand where the public will see it, and AT&T putting their brand on billboards. The only difference is that AT&T has the money to pay for use of someone else's property and to get laws passed that make their tags legal. That doesn't make one person's tag intrinsically good and another's bad.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Tracy, that's not just true of AT&T but also of philanthropists who these days all seem to want their name on a building or a plaque before they'll give money to this or that cause. In that sense, the wealthy and corporations often display the same impulses for self promotion as the graff writer, they just have money to enforce their "tags" through property rights.

PirateFriedman said...

I think everyone agrees that tagging private property is bad. But we all have our own personal perspective on how we feel about the world.

When I think of these taggers I don't get a lot of warm and fuzzy emotions. I see them as trash, basically. Just a bunch of lost souls seeking attention. They don't get that America has a lot of opportunity, even for the very poor and they won't try to succeed by following societies rules. Some of em could be straightened out with a good father figure in their life, of course.

I don't think the phrase "intrinsically right" can ever be proven, unless you rely on some religious faith. On the other hand, I find private property rights to be the most fundemental and cogent foundation for building a system of ethics. So I see AT&T advertisements as very different from taggers who tag private property.

I view philanthropists in a completely positive manner. Some of them are donating to advertise their products. Since advertising is an important part of the capitalist system, which has brought us this high standard of living, that brings a smile to my face.

Some of them are just attempting to fill Maslow's "Self Relization" need. They want a legacy of doing something positive. For those of us who do not have a religion this is a normal thing to think about.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Pirate, when you see a juvie tagger, you see "trash." When I look at them, I think "There but for the grace of God go I." An activity that was virtually a rite of passage when I was a teenager is now actually a felony on the first offense if the tag is on a church or a school.

That's too much and no matter how strongly you feel about property rights, the enforcement only approach on graffiti simply isn't working. The volume of graff is increasing where that's all that's being done. At some point reality must intervene to correct ideology's assumptions, and this is one of those moments.

Government has bigger fish to fry and at the end of the day graffiti is a nuisance, not a threat. Think of it like skateboarding, which is mostly illegal on the streets and sidewalks but kids do it anyway. So the government built skate ramps in city parks. Some kids still use the sidewalks, but it lessened the practice and gave them a legal alternative to do their thing. Similarly, while it's impossible to stamp out uninvited graffiti (just like kids will always illegally skate on the sidewalk), it may be possible reduce the volume of uninvited graff by identifying acceptable spots where it's tolerated. Not gang graff - where it arrives, it can always be buffed. But in most cities, that's not where most of the volume is coming from.

PirateFriedman said...

Grits, to clarify, I was not suggesting that major enforcement will work. Your points on prioritizing resources are well taken.

I do think your permission walls will not be a cost effective solution at all. Kids will not get the same gratification from permission walls.

We scale back a bad idea(turning graf into a felony), without replacing it with another bad idea(permission walls).

Gritsforbreakfast said...

PR, I'm not just for "permission walls," to be clear. I'm for granting permission broadly (within limits, like no gang tags or obscenities), in several types of public spaces citywide - highway underpasses, drainage areas, backs of street signs, utility boxes in the right of way, etc.. (See this discussion.) Stand-alone permission walls have been tried and aren't effective long-term - IMO it's worth trying to integrate graff solutions more fundamentally into underutilized portions of the city's landscape, funneling it away from private property and toward areas don't harm property interests.

PirateFriedman said...

"PR, I'm not just for "permission walls," to be clear. I'm for granting permission broadly (within limits, like no gang tags or obscenities), in several types of public spaces citywide - highway underpasses, drainage areas, backs of street signs, utility boxes in the right of way, etc.. "

Well I wouldn't have a problem with that. As long as we aren't building special walls for these miscreants, I don't care if we liberalize tagging rules on government property.

Anonymous said...

We think being permissive will cause the taggers to stop gang tagging. Who are we trying to kid? We will have the same amount of gang tagging and an extra amount of "art".

We assume that taggers are deprived of an opportunity for artistic expression so they come out at 2 AM to express themselves.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"We think being permissive will cause the taggers to stop gang tagging. Who are we trying to kid?"

Nobody thinks that at all. The large majority of tagging by volume is unaffiliated with "gangs". And if somebody wants to make "art" in a concrete drainage ditch, I personally can identify no overweening interest in preventing it that outweighs the costs of enforcement.

FtWorth Graffiti Abatement said...

Just to clarify. The only difference between Art and Graffiti is PERMISSION. Art is very subjective...consider Abstract or Impressionist, not everyone likes these styles of art. The common style used in graffiti is referred to as Urban or Street Art. The majority of the graffiti seen is NOT GANG related. Many studies have been done concerning graffiti and its impact to the community...visits and to become more educated. 1. Graffiti, if left unchecked will encourage other types of crime (Broken windows theory) - basically encourage criminals into the neighborhood...kind of like your child inviting a vampire into your home. 2. "Legal Walls" don't work. What happens is that vandals will tag on their way to the wall, when the wall fills up, they spread to the surrounding areas and then they tag on their way back...basically having gangrene in your community. There are many documented cases of these types of walls throughout the world. 3. Three studies (A German, Australian, and Pennsylvania) indicate that youth involved with graffiti have extremely low self esteem, majority coming from emotionally abusive homes. Our hope in Fort Worth (Mural Program) is to work with these youth & young adults to show that they are valued and that the Urban & Street styles are legitimate styles of art but the key is to ask for Permission and to work with property owners. Trust is a huge issue along with the proliferation from the media and marketing execs promoting graffiti as "cool". We, in Fort Worth are trying to state graffiti is not cool, it's rude, dangerous, can ruin your community and your future earning potential (if charged with a felony). We are encouraging youth who consider themselves "artist" to work with property owners who would like murals, along with working with those youth who may not believe that they have value, hopefully developing their talents and presentation skills so that they have the confidence to promote themselves, their work and possibly a career. We realize that this is going to be tough struggle but we feel that our youth and our City are worth the effort.

Graffiti Task Force said...

To solve the graffiti problem, the legislature must allow SOME graffiti acts to be treated not as a crime but as a civil case, much like a parking ticket.

Equal justice for graffiti vandals is the first step.