Graffiti means, without limitation, any letter, word, name, number, symbol, slogan, message, drawing, picture, writing, or other mark of any kind visible to the public that is drawn, painted, chiseled, scratched or etched on a rock, tree, wall, bridge, fence, gate, building or other structure; provided, this definition shall not include advertising or any other letter, word, name, number, symbol, slogan, message, drawing, picture, writing, or other mark of any kind lawfully placed on property by an owner of the property, a tenant of the property, or by an authorized agent for such owner or tenant. ("Removal of Graffiti by Municipalities," Oklahoma.)
During a three-month period, the state of Oklahoma can spend up to $26,000 ($104,000 per year) on graffiti cleanup - money that could be put to use for more proactive projects if graffiti were not such an issue. This number might even be higher, as irreparable damage is sometimes caused by graffiti and the solvents used to clean it off of traffic signs, requiring these signs to then be replaced.
There are three distinct types of graffiti vandalism and motivations:
- Hate Crime Graffiti - This graffiti is motivated by personal or group prejudice, hatred, dispute, racial or religious discrimination, and is the rarest type.
- Gang Graffiti - This graffiti is generally perpetrated by members of violent street gangs whose primary purpose is to announce the superiority of a specific street gang in a specific neighborhood, the gang's "turf."
- Tagger Graffiti - This graffiti is committed by individuals and groups of kids for the sole purpose of establishing identity and recognition for themselves among their peers, generally other taggers. Putting their tag names up in highly visible areas or dangerous places increases the recognition, or "fame" value of the effort.
Economic Effects of Graffiti
When graffiti exists in a neighborhood, outsiders who may be considering opening a business or buying a home are likely to feel uneasy; they may choose to look elsewhere. Who wants to move to a seemingly blighted, decaying community? In addition, longtime residents and business owners may also think about relocating. Graffiti undermines community development, especially those efforts aimed at bringing in new businesses. Neighborhoods blighted by graffiti may find it particularly difficult to attract revitalizing investments. In addition to long-term effects, the immediate cost of removing graffiti can run into tens of thousands of dollars in private and public expense.
Graffiti Attracts Graffiti
Taggers derive excitement and thrill from tagging as many places as possible, and they often compete for recognition. Allowing graffiti to remain is equivalent to the “Broken Window Syndrome” – allowing one broken window to go un-repaired will attract others to be broken as well. In addition to being an unattractive nuisance, graffiti also invites violence. Gang members intentionally deface other gangs’ graffiti, perpetuating the cycle of violence.
Tips for Graffiti Prevention
- Keep up the neighborhood. Make every effort to keep the appearance of a neighborhood clean and neat. Remove litter and trash, fix broken fences, trim landscape, and ensure all lighting is working properly.
- Remove graffiti promptly. Rapid removal of graffiti is an effective prevention tool. Data shows that removal within 24 to 48 hours results in a nearly zero rate of recurrence. Most Keep America Beautiful affiliates credit the reduction in graffiti in their communities to rapid removal.
- Encourage citizen reporting. Educate the public about the impact of graffiti vandalism and provide a way for them to report graffiti. In many cities, an 800 number, a dedicated telephone line, or a web site is established for this purpose. Respond promptly to reports of graffiti vandalism.
- Enforce anti-graffiti laws. Ensure that any existing anti-graffiti laws are enforced. Law enforcement dedicated to tracking and apprehending graffiti vandals is a strong deterrent. A survey of arrested taggers found "fear of getting caught" was the top response when asked what would get them to stop tagging.
- Use an "adopt-a-spot" program. A handful of communities provide citizen volunteers with graffiti cleanup kits to keep an area they have "adopted" graffiti free. These programs improve awareness and engage citizens in graffiti prevention. Learn more about graffiti removal kits.
- Create a paint-brush mural. Use a community mural to restore a wall chronically hit with graffiti. Graffiti vandals only occasionally tag a paint-brush mural, and they are a great way to get the community involved in graffiti prevention. Murals can involve local artists, youth and community volunteers, and the local paint store, which may be willing to donate paint and brushes. Download a step-by-step guide for creating a mural.
- Change the environment. Keep taggers away from target surfaces with dense vegetation or thorny plants against building walls and fencing next to buildings. Add security lighting in dark areas. Design buildings with surfaces that can be easily repainted or use glazed tiles or materials with anti-graffiti coatings. Avoid unpainted, textured materials like concrete, brick, stone, stucco, and stained or unfinished wood.
- Make changes to build-in graffiti prevention:
- Incorporate natural deterrents, such as landscaping. Shrubs, thorny plants and vines will effectively restrict access. Plan or add lighting to promote natural surveillance.
- Use fences, controlled entrance and exits, rails, and other barriers that discourage through traffic.
- Limit access to roofs by moving dumpsters away from walls and covering drainpipes to prevent vandals from scaling them.
- Use graffiti hoods to buffer freeway signs.
- Incorporate metal baffles on sign poles, similar to squirrel baffles on bird feeders.
- Employ graffiti resistant surfaces to vandal-proof targeted areas use:
Graffiti resistant materials or coatings. The city of Tucson, AZ, for example, requires that walls of new buildings be constructed of or painted with graffiti resistant materials. Sacrificial coatings, which allow graffiti to be washed off, must be re-applied after each graffiti clean-up. Textured surfaces, which are less attractive to graffiti vandals. Dark-colored or colorful surfaces; neither of these provide a good canvas for a graffiti vandal.
- Monitor graffiti-prone locations. Get the support of law enforcement to step up police monitoring of locations that are frequently hit by graffiti. A few communities are using some type of security camera in areas that are frequently hit with graffiti vandalism. Also consider organizing a "Neighborhood Watch" to keep an eye on targeted sites.
- Employ curfews. A national survey of police agencies found that the vast majority felt curfews were an effective tool to control vandalism, graffiti, nighttime burglary, and car theft. Most jurisdictions with curfews had them in effect for several years. A survey of 800 cities conducted by the National League of Cities found curfews effective for curbing gang violence as well.
- Provide alternatives. The Institute for Law and Justice, Inc. manual on safe neighborhoods suggests diverting graffiti criminals to positive alternatives. The effectiveness of this approach is largely undocumented, but consider some of the following to encourage youth in more positive directions:
- Youth Centers - A 2002 Colorado study recommends establishing centers for youth to gain leadership skills and to express themselves in a variety of ways. The centers teach responsibility and provide a safe place to have fun.
- Arts Programs - A 1999 U.S. Conference of Mayors study found that youth participating in arts programs exhibit improvements in academic performance, conflict resolution, team building and decreased frequency of delinquent behavior.
- Get a YouthARTS Tool Kit, developed through Americans for the Arts, and create an arts program for at-risk youth.
- Community Programs - Community programs encourage youth to take control of their lives, make good choices, and provide a substitute for vandalism. For example, Seattle Public Utilities created ArtWorks for at-risk youth.
- Youth Involvement - Involve youth and schools in graffiti prevention efforts, such as cleanups or mural projects. Keep Houston Beautiful initiated a mural series where they paired groups of neighborhood youth with professional artists to design and paint a mural on a chronically tagged wall.
What to Do About Graffiti
The best thing to do is to paint over it— immediately! Graffiti which attracts attention and generates anger when first “thrown” draws less and less attention as time goes by. Within just a few days it tends to blend in, becoming part of the landscape. Its negative effect, however, continues long after it has become a party of the scenery. Local paint stores can provide helpful information and materials to remove graffiti. Building and painting contractors may be able to recommend building surfaces that are easier to clean.
Helpful Tips for Graffiti Removal
Quick Response! Don’t let graffiti last more than 24 hours. Blocking it out works, but total removal or blended repainting works best. Wash it off. Paint dries to the touch fairly fast but takes longer to cure. If you act quickly, complete removal may be possible with no further painting required. Washing makes color coverage easier when repainting. The challenge is to remove graffiti without damaging the underlying finish. Special care is critical on transparent finishes like varnished doors. You may want to consult with a professional before risking permanent damage to the surface. Start with the mildest cleaner, working up to stronger ones until you get results. Test small areas first.
- Try detergent and water.
- Mineral spirits are effective on uncured graffiti.
- Methanol is effective on uncured graffiti, but will likely dissolve a latex painted surface.
- Lacquer thinner, acetone and water rinseable semi-paste paint remover will remove graffiti, but may damage surfaces.
- Solvents used for removals from stained or unfinished wood may carry the graffiti into the wood surface.
- Use paper towels or disposable wipes and change them frequently, or try a plastic scrub pad or stiff bristle brush.
- Remember to wear hand, eye and respiratory protection as required, and safely dispose of solvent-soaked wipes to prevent spontaneous combustion.
- A pressure washer designed to work with warm water may be helpful, but it’s usually best to soften and reduce graffiti with other methods first. Be careful not to damage the surface with too much pressure.
- Block it out. Solvent-based and water-based paints are available for matching colors. Some surfaces require more than one coat. Allow one coat to dry completely before applying a second coat.
- Blend it in. Save paint from an original paint job for touch ups. If you have none and have no record of the original paint, most paint suppliers are capable of custom matching colors and sheens.
- Use inexpensive disposable applicators to ease your convenience and speed. Learn what is easy, cheap and effective and keep needed materials handy.
Visit Keep America Beautiful for more information about graffiti prevention!