Clean it yourself

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April 16, 2002 // UPDATED 1:17 pm - April 30, 2007
By: Brent Killackey
Brent Killackey

Budget woes force city to gut graffiti cleanup programs

Business owners and residents will be asked to bear more of the work in the battle against graffiti, the result of city budget cuts.

The city previously subsidized graffiti cleanup on business property if the property owner paid to apply a protective coating. The city also provided the public free graffiti-cleaning supplies, available through fire stations.

In March, the city eliminated those programs.

Public Works Department budget cuts -- and the resulting personnel cuts -- will likely slow city graffiti-removal efforts on public property.

Program eliminated

Increasing city budget pressures killed the protective-coating cleanup program, said City Councilmember Barret Lane (13th Ward). "This is one decision of a lot of decisions which are going to have to be made over the course of the next couple of years that are ultimately going to reduce the total number of services we offer to people," he said.

Lane said the city must focus resources on core services.

Property owners who took part in the city's now-eliminated protective coating program had their graffiti removed for free -- only paying to apply and re-apply a protective coating, a fraction of removal costs.

The city paid roughly $19,000 when the program started several years ago. Last year, the city budgeted $360,000 and requested an additional $300,000, according to Susan Young, director of solid waste and recycling.

"The place for the city to focus its resources is on the stuff that our customers can't do, and our customers can't do arrests and investigations and convictions," Young said.

The police budget remained intact with regard to anti-graffiti operations. "We are going to focus our resources on that which we can do best," Young said.

One Downtown merchant whose building has been tagged supports the approach. "Preventative maintenance is where the city should put its energy," said Dick Young, operations and production manager of ProColor Inc., 909 Hennepin Ave. "I'm an old-school guy -- fix it up yourself. To us, clean-up is not an issue; there's more benefit to prevention and enforcement than coating."

ProColor is no bystander in the graffiti wars; two weeks ago, a tagger caved in the photo-finisher's entryway roof, after standing on it to paint a hard-to-reach tag.

Enforcement on vandals

The city made 106 arrests for graffiti last year, the first year it compiled statistics, said Sgt. Rick Duncan. Duncan is the city's lone officer assigned solely to anti-graffiti efforts.

The warmer weather contributed to increased arrests early this year -- 13 for January and February compared to just six during the same 2001 period, Duncan said.

Jail time remains rare in graffiti cases, but an effective tool has been restitution and probation with the threat of jail time for re-offense, Duncan said. In 2000, a vandal using the tag "Locust" was sentenced to two years probation. As a probation condition, if he re-offended, he would serve the jail time from the previous offense.

Duncan said the vandal hasn't been rearrested and the "Locust" tag hasn't

reappeared.

New ordinance -- no teeth

While the city will capture and prosecute graffiti vandals, neighborhood residents and businesses will be asked to promptly clean graffiti.

"It really has to be a community effort more than a city effort," said Sgt. Duncan.

That's convenient, because the city's new graffiti ordinance -- which gives the city the power to clean private property and charge the property owner on their tax bill -- is now impotent. The program required budget money to assess property owners, but those funds were cut.

Property owners must still obey the city's maintenance code, which requires graffiti cleanup, or the owner can be fined up to $500 and -- although highly unlikely -- up to 90 days in jail.

However, someone facing a very expensive cleanup -- which can run into thousands of dollars -- might pay the several-hundred-dollar fine and ignore the graffiti, said Jack Allison Jr., district supervisor of housing inspections. "It's not going to ensure the graffiti is removed."

Allison said property owners can be cited again for the graffiti, but dragging out the court process could still be less costly.

Most graffiti, however, doesn't cost thousands to abate. "Unless it's a sensitive surface, it won't take thousands of dollars," Young said.

Most graffiti-removal firms, however, have a several-hundred-dollar minimum cost to clean a surface.

Duncan said community pressure to clean graffiti-marred surfaces works better than citing property owners to clean their buildings. "That has more impact than anything we can do," he said.

What is still available to combat graffiti?

Here are some resources:

  • Citizens can still report graffiti via the city's hotline -- 673-2090.

    Residents can also report graffiti using the city's Web site: www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/graffiti.

    If graffiti is spotted in-progress,

    residents are asked to call 911.

    In 2001, there were 4,925 graffiti reports in Minneapolis. Because

    several people might call about the same vandalism, the calls produced 4,238 police reports.

    A police typist answers the line and takes a report on graffiti. Within 48 hours, a community service officer photographs the graffiti as evidence. Citizens are asked not to remove the graffiti until notified that the photograph has been taken.

    Prior to this system, police reports were not issued for all graffiti and police had no way to track the vandalism problem's size and scope. The police reports are tied into the crime-tracking CODEFOR system that allows authorities to target patrols in

    problem areas.

  • Several private firms can remove graffiti. Look under "Graffiti Removal Services" in the Yellow Pages.

  • Hennepin County provides free paint through hazardous-waste collection programs. Young recommends that people try to use original paint, if available, because it provides the best color match.