A common question asked by people responsible for a building, municipality, association or district is “How do we get graffiti to stop?”
What they’re normally seeing is a tagger coming by and writing on a building, which normally happens at night, so they’re really only seeing the tag and not the tagger. This is the first part of the issue. How long does it take for you to write your signature down on a piece of paper? Does it take longer if I asked you write your signature a foot high and wide? Probably not. This is why most taggers don’t get caught; they’re simply not seen doing the act.
As a graffiti removal specialist, I’ve removed graffiti for about 10 years and have never seen someone in the act of tagging. I work in back alleys, early mornings, occasionally on roof tops, and the closest I’ve come to seeing it happen was when a kid came out of a shop that sold graffiti products and he put some spray paint cans into his backpack as he walked away from the store. He went 4 blocks without tagging, but I had a feeling that night was a different story.
The second part of the problem is that when someone is caught tagging by police, there’s a lot of resources poured into the prosecution, so I usually only hear about people getting caught that have a history of months or years of tagging a town with the same tag over and over again. Small time taggers rarely get caught, which is where the solution is hidden. A slap on the wrist by the law isn’t going to stop someone who is obviously in opposition of the law, the “man”, or authority. There’s already a lack of respect for people and their property when they buy their first can of paint. Unless you have a rusty bike that needs some sprucing up, why would you need a can of paint?
The obvious solution to battle graffiti is to stop the sales of graffiti products to anyone. This makes sense, but every city has a shop or 2 or 5 that sells graffiti specific products. They’re not getting shut down, but what if a city bylaw did shut them down? I don’t believe graffiti would stop. I believe that it could actually spark a rise in graffiti because it brings graffiti to the attention of people. Maybe even plants a seed in a young mind that didn’t know what graffiti was all about and that it makes business people or parents angry. That’s a slightly thin theory, but graffiti in the news has shown to bump up the graffiti in a city that sees a news piece on it. Not all the time, but why chance it? The other issues with trying to ban graffiti product sales is that there’s going to be backlash from the companies selling it, which again, puts a spotlight on it and now fuels some fires for the attack. If a campaign is successful and nobody is allowed to sell graffiti products, then the world wide web kicks in and if you have a credit card, Paypal account, or even an online debit card, you can take a look at what the whole world has to offer for graffitiing products. The stores at least had the clerk to prevent minors from buying, if that’s a thing.
The main reason people don’t like dealing with graffiti, other than waking up to an unexpected expense, is that they don’t know all of their options and feel like it’s going to “come right back again”. This is the exact opposite of actual truth. Leaving graffiti on a building actually attracts more vandalism. Have you ever noticed an old abandoned building that’s covered in graffiti and has some smashed windows? There’s a criminology theory called the Broken Window Theory that says visible signs of crime, such as anti-social behaviour and civil disorder create an urban environment that encourages more crime and disorder. These further crimes can become much more dangerous than tagging. So, cutting out the minor crimes are believed to be related to a drop in more serious crimes. Leaving graffiti alone because it’s “just going to happen again” isn’t the solution, it’s actually a disservice to your community. This leads us to the answer that works better than all the other possible solutions to stopping graffiti. Don’t let graffiti stay on a building, or anywhere. A zero tolerance of allowable graffiti on a property, enforced by local Bylaw or Police Officers, is easily the best solution to preventing graffiti in the future. Once a tagger knows their tags aren’t going to be there later for people to see. This might not be the best solution for your city or neighbours at first, but it’s the long game that needs to be played. Lower attention spans have a better chance of winning the short game. Remove your graffiti ASAP and if it continues, keep to your path. It has proven to work time and time again. New York city implemented this method in the 90’s and it worked, big time. If a rail car was hit with graffiti, it was pulled off the tracks and cleaned. Crime and graffiti dropped, it was a huge success story that other cities have and can still learn from.
So next time your building gets hit with graffiti or you see graffiti in a part of town, take a look around and see if there’s more. Did a neighbouring building attract graffiti to your building? Take the time to look further than the surface issue and you’ll find that like any game you play, the long game is how you win. Talk to your neighbours and ask them to remove their graffiti, ask the city to remove their graffiti (most cities have a graffiti reporting hotline), ask your local graffiti removal company to patrol your buildings and look for graffiti they can remove, or clean it yourself as soon as you see it. It’s an easy way to make your neighbours and customers feel safe and enjoy looking at the buildings the way they were intended to look.