Updated: Mar 2, 2020
As a company dedicated to removing graffiti, there are buildings that we see get hit time and time again with graffiti. This isn’t unusual, other than it doesn’t always seem to be arbitrary. Over time, it appears that certain buildings are targeted much more than others. Could it be that the company operating in one of these buildings is the target? Probably not because graffiti rarely carries a directed message with it. I would assume if someone was targeting a company because of what they’re doing that they might suggest that in some way or another within the content of their graffiti. In the past 10 years, I can recall 1 piece of graffiti that had a message behind it and it was done on a specific government building. That person also got caught while doing it, sentenced, and probably brought more awareness to their message than if they didn’t get caught. Even the removal of that graffiti was spotlighted because of the nature of it. Everything about it brought attention to it, but that’s a rare exception. Graffiti isn’t normally targeting companies, but it does seem to target buildings.
This brings up the main question: Why do some buildings get hit with graffiti over and over again and their neighbours never do? From our experience, the majority is based on location and design.
Location, location, location is the cliché real estate buying and selling feature, but it plays a massive part in whether or not your property will be hit with graffiti. Does it have an alley? Does it have a pedestrian alley or breezeway? Where is the closest bus stop? Is there a stigma that holds some truth to the part of town it’s in? Is there a skate park next door? These are some main factors that play a part in whether or not your building will be hit with graffiti. Of course you can’t fully predict what buildings will get hit with graffiti, as it is a random act of vandalism, but when we look back at the thousands of filed photos of graffiti that we’ve removed, it’s clear that there are patterns within the randomness.
If there is a foot path that someone who fits the demographic of a tagger would typically use, then you can expect there to be a tag along it every once in a while. Trying to identify someone who graffitis without stereotyping them is rather difficult, but over the years it’s become clear how they normally travel, what time of night they’re out on the town, what gender is more dominant, etc. So finding places they travel isn’t as hard as you might think once you actually think about it. For example, where might a 20 year old male be traveling at 1:30am? Maybe walking home and down a dark alley as a shortcut? Many females would avoid the alley at that time of night. Does the graffiti start or stop at a bus stop? Does it start near a pub? Is there a street that it all seems to stem from? When looking over our archives of graffiti we’ve removed, we end up seeing the patterns and can make pretty good guesses as to who is doing the graffiti. Some taggers go off to university and come home for the holidays and tag while they’re home. Others live in neighbourhoods and tag along their way back home at night. Some like the risk involved and climb dangerous buildings to get their tags in unusual places. The common factor in these scenarios is that they’re not hitting specific businesses or companies, but they’re hitting what’s along their path.
People who graffiti normally need a few seconds to an hour to get their graffiti done, but regardless of the time they need, they all like privacy. Not many people can name a crime, regardless of the size or severity, that they’d want to do with people watching. I imagine you might agree that even breaking the speed limit in your vehicle feels better when nobody is watching. Imagine spraying paint over someones new building and someone seeing you. The fear of being caught is what can deter people from shaking a can of paint. This fear isn’t created by pedestrians as much as it is by building design or objects on or around the property.
If a building has dodged the location issues, it can still be a target for someone with a can of spray-paint. When we find graffiti or arrive at a job-site, it’s normally during daylight hours. This is a big problem for property managers and many building designers/architects. When designing a building, aesthetics are a huge part of what is going to sell the building to the developer or owner, so putting in anti-graffiti features that might work against the design in the daylight hours simply aren’t put in. I don’t blame them for doing that, but from my industries perspective I do. If you’re designing a modern style building and you want a white stucco wall down the side alley, you should expect it to be hit with graffiti at some point. If you put trees along a building that block street or building lights, you should expect to be hit with graffiti there too. If you have a recessed side storm door without a window in the door or a gate to prevent people from stepping into it for privacy, you know you’ll get hit there one day as well. If your neighbour has a graffiti style commissioned mural, you might see a competing graffiti mural on your building one day, so spread the information on the psychology of the “broken window theory” (google that) and get the neighbours up to speed.
It might sound inevitable that you’re going to get hit with graffiti, but I’ll tell you why it’s not. There are some easy solutions for current buildings to start preventing the amount of graffiti they get hit with and even better solutions if the building process hasn’t begun.
If you’re building is getting hit with graffiti, take a look at where it’s getting hit. The vast majority will be on the sides and back (if it’s on the front and you do have a side and back to your building, give us a call and we can dig deeper into what is going on and how we can help you, or get you the right graffiti removal product). Take a walk around your building once it’s dark out at night and traffic has slowed down for the evening. This is the best starting point for seeing why it’s a targeted area. If it’s dark, light it up. If you have room for plants, get some prickly shrubs. Is there a gate you could close and lock or have installed? Cameras are also a huge deterrent, but make sure you have more than one and they cover large areas. Motion sensors are also a good deterrent, but don’t rely solely on the light from the sensor. Have a light on that area and use the motion sensor as the overwhelming light that adds to the existing light. The existing light will deter people from walking over in the first place, but if they do, the change in light will draw attention to the area. None of that is ideal for someone about to do a crime.
Once you’ve seen graffiti on a building, look for the rest of the graffiti in the neighbourhood. As mentioned earlier, if there’s a park, pub, residential area, bus stop, at one end and you’ve found 2 locations of graffiti, you can probably find the 3rd and 4th pieces quite easily. Now take a look at how your building is involved in this path of frequent graffiti. Can you put in a blockade of some kind, such as a fence that would only give them one way in and out of an area if they got caught? Something as simple as a lone spotlight could prevent hundreds of future tags, so try it. If you think you know how someone got onto your rooftop, or why they wandered over to your building and not the other 4 next to it, you’re probably right and can figure out a way to make it less convenient.
The 3 main deterrents to focus on are lights, shrubs, and path. If you don’t have solutions for these 3 items then you need to start. Graffiti isn’t a neighbourhood problem until it’s repetitive. If you’re losing the battle, get off the sidelines and do something.
If you still get hit with graffiti after all your efforts in preventing it, the single best solution for avoiding reoccurrence is to remove graffiti ASAP. The sooner it’s gone, the less likely it will happen again. The mindset we find among people who get hit with graffiti on their alley walls is that if they remove it, it’s just going to come back again. I can’t think of any other scenario where this mentality would be justified. When my car gets dirty, I still wash it. This makes absolutely no sense at all because my car will get dirty again, but your building actually might not get hit with graffiti again. Did you search Broken Window Theory yet? Graffiti breeds graffiti, so you and your neighbours will be better off if you’re not part of the cause of graffiti!