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May 15, 2011 / 2headedgarden

Police aim to regain losses due to graffiti

With each passing day, graffiti is constantly “bombed” on buildings for the entire world to see.  Some look at graffiti as a form of massive vandalism, while some look at graffiti as a substantial art form that focuses and hones in on the artists of the community sharing their inspirations and styles to the general public.

However, police are constantly bombarded with phone calls of angry citizens who report that their homes, businesses, or property has been vandalized and used as an impromptu canvas.

“For 2010, there were 1169 police reports made.  Of those, there were 24 arrests made for graffiti.  So far, in 2011, there have been 362 graffiti reports made, and 15 arrests made for graffiti,” Kevin Bartles, a detective for the Austin Police Department’s Gang Unit, said.

“However, this doesn’t count those that were coded as “Criminal Mischief.”  The two terms are often confused,” Bartles said.  “For example, all graffiti cases could be considered Criminal Mischief, but not all Criminal Mischief cases are graffiti.   In other words… a rock thrown through a window could be Criminal Mischief, as could a spray painted window.  In both cases, someone’s property has been damaged.”

Section 28.08 of the Texas Penal Code defines the offense of graffiti as “A person commits an offense if, without the effective consent of the owner, the person intentionally or knowingly makes markings, including inscriptions, slogans, drawings, or paintings, on the tangible property of the owner with: paint, an indelible marker, or a scratching/engraving device.”

The punishments for graffiti range from a Class B misdemeanor if the damage is less than $500 to a first degree felony if the damage is more than $200,000.

“It’s crazy how they’re cracking down on it lately,” graffiti artist Nikki said.  “Basically, it goes like this.  If you are caught bombing a wall, they arrest you, fingerprint you, and take photographs of your work.  Once they have you on record, you’re kind of screwed because if they see more of your work around the city, they know it’s you, and you can get arrested for it again.”

In terms of how the police handle these situations, they do not see it as a war.

“The City doesn’t “battle artists”, but we do try to stop some from damaging the property belonging to others,” Bartles said.  “The City of Austin currently spends nearly a half a million dollars a year to remove graffiti.  This is likely only about half the cost to the city, since the majority of the victims remove the graffiti at their own expense.”

One can tell, from the Public Information Officer’s statistics, that the city has gone to great lengths in terms of the removal of graffiti.

In 2003, the city removed roughly 7,500 graffiti pieces from walls, while in 2009, they removed over 16,000.  Could this mean that the actual practice and art of graffiti is slowly on the rise?

Bartles had a few comments, given his experience handling these types of cases, about the nature of graffiti and whether or not it is a viable art form.

“The vast majority of graffiti in Austin has nothing to do with “art”, but is merely the human equivalent of a dog marking his territory,” he said.  “By definition, graffiti is written on property belonging to others, without their permission.  It is destructive, and if left up, tends to draw more graffiti.  The resulting eyesore has been shown to leads to other, unrelated crimes in the area.  It’s been associated this way in studies of the “Broken Windows” theory.

“For those that don’t agree with this view, the answer is relatively simple; if you want to do graffiti, do it on your own property… property that you paid for via your own hard work.  I can assure you that anyone that has worked hard to be able to afford to buy property, would not appreciate someone else’s interpretation of “art” being applied to the property.”

Of course, Bartles assertions don’t just concern the private property owned by Austin citizens, but to any property that is considered public, or is used by a wide array of people.

“And don’t think that just because it’s done to public property that makes it ok.  Street signs, for example, belong to all tax payers, and they’re not fair game.  And when a business’ property is tagged, the cost for removal is simply passed along to their customers, so we all end up paying for graffiti… either in higher costs or via taxes.”