City, county teaming to battle graffiti

Springfield and Clark County are working together to remove graffiti from public and private property this spring, which officials say has increased during the cold winter months.

The county prosecutor’s diversion program performed graffiti eradication last summer, and is hoping to expand on it this spring.

Clark County prosecutor Andy Wilson said the program did a great job removing tags all over the county last summer and fall. However, once the weather turned colder in December, the removal stopped and the graffiti has increased ever since, Wilson said.

“We just haven’t been able to do it all winter,” Wilson said. “It’s terrible right now.”

The city has 171 active cases, according Stephen Thompson, the city’s code enforcement manager.

Because the cold weather prevented removal, “it just sits there and people see it over and over,” Thompson said.

Last year, the department had 175 cases and added approximately 81 cases so far this year.

Eighty-five cases have been closed either through code enforcement or the owners cleaning them up, Thompson said.

“This winter, we’ve really tried to be on the look out for them,” Thompson said. “A lot of the times, some of them are repeat cases where the owner will remove them and they get tagged again.”

They’re hoping to run the graffiti removal unit 40 hours per week from April through June, Wilson said. The goal is to have several different organizations operate the unit throughout the week.

The program also allows citizens to have the graffiti removed from their private property free of charge through the prosecutor’s office.

“It’s part of community beautification,” Wilson said.

Wilson estimated the office would budget approximately $8,000 on salaries and $6,000 in supplies for the graffiti program.

“We’re trying to get someone hired and get them up and going,” Wilson said.

By taking care of graffiti through the prosecutor’s office, it reduces the amount of time city code enforcement officers spend doing inspections or hiring contractors to abate it.

Last April, the city took over ownership of a graffiti-cleaning trailer after the county learned it was unable to clean up graffiti with money from the Clark County Solid Waste District.

Keep Clark County Beautiful purchased the trailer in 2009 after collecting about $23,000 in donations from the Springfield Foundation, Clark County Juvenile Court, the Waste Management District and the city. The unit is still available to other government organizations; they’ll just contact the city instead of the Waste Management District.

The unit is able to blast away or cover large areas of graffiti. The trailer uses a generator, air compressor and blaster to quickly remove paint from surfaces using a mixture of water and baking soda.

City service director Chris Moore said they’ve done “very minimal” removal over the last few months because the graffiti unit can only be used when the temperature is above 35 degrees.

The city service department is hoping to remove more graffiti this spring, but Moore said it’s difficult to project how much can be accomplished.

“The tags are all different,” Moore said. “Some take five minutes and some take five hours.”

The unit was used two to three days per week until Thanksgiving last year, Moore said.

Officials from the city, sheriff’s office, juvenile court and prosecutor’s office recently met to discuss many different ways to remove tags.

“It was a really good spirit of cooperation last summer,” Wilson said.

City law director Jerry Strozdas said part of the allure of tagging is to see your name all over town, but it’s hard for an offender to be caught the first time they place a tag on a piece of property.

The city’s code enforcement department, which receives complaints from residents and city staff when tags arise, has begun compiling a book of photos which shows the damage the tagger has inflicted on the community over a period of time.

‘They’ll be able to look at historically how many they were probably responsible,” Thompson said.

They’re working on a way to make property owners aware of the program. If they’re building is tagged, they’ll have the opportunity to have it removed using the graffiti unit.

“If we can bring those pooled community resources together like we’re talking about, which was done rather successfully last summer, we think that will be a big assistance,” Strozdas said.

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