What's really needed in the graffiti war
The City of Portland's new ordinance requiring that retailers lock up spray paint and record the identification of everyone buying it is a laughable way to fight graffiti. In years past, wiser city leaders grasped well the only real way to combat this urban blight: get everyone in town cleaning it up as soon as it appears. When taggers see their handiwork disappear faster than they can come back and admire it, they quickly find a new place to vandalize. After bouncing around without success, they might decide to take up a more productive habit, like narcotics.
Anyway, if the city really wants to fight graffiti, that's where it needs to focus its efforts -- mobilizing property owners and neighbors to get right on removing tags while the paint's still wet. The city has a crew that runs around cleaning up traffic signs, and a central coordinator who takes in reports and photos of some of the more egregious violations, but together they're spit in the ocean. Average Janes and Joes with cleaning fluid, solvent, buckets, and coverup paints -- they're the only hope of staying ahead of the epidemic. Otherwise, Portland goes the route of San Francisco and New York -- amateur visual garbage on every outdoor surface.
Unfortunately, from my recent unscientific cruises through the inner east side of the Rose City, I can see that the cleanup volunteers are getting tired. Several of the hot spots aren't get cleared of the vandals' work as quickly as they used to. A few property and business owners appear to have given up altogether. The Asian restaurant on the northwest corner of NE 9th and Broadway is a perfect example. The north-facing wall in the rear of that establishment has now been abandoned to the taggers, and of course the graffiti is starting to spread to other nearby walls. There's a similar story going down on 8th. It's a shame.
Now, the city has an ordinance that requires owners to clean up tags on their property within a few days of their being posted, and so there's the stick that theoretically gets the victim to remedy the crime. But how about a carrot or two? What is the city doing to reach out to the public, and help and encourage them with the awful cleanup chores?
What's happened to law enforcement? Do they do anything (other than contemplate their pensions) between 2 and 5 most mornings, when all the tagging seems to get done? It doesn't take a genius to figure out which locations are the taggers' favorites. Would it kill the Police Bureau to invest a little personpower in these locations at the appropriate hours to nab, say, a tagger a month? In these parts, they tend to be a bunch of little snitches, and so a bust or two might actually yield a good handful of spray paint cockroaches in a short time.
And what about security cams at a few of the hot spots? These devices seem to work well when they're writing out huge robo-tickets for running a red light. Put a few at SE 20th and Stark, SE 7th and Schuyler, the I-5 underpasses between the Marquam and the Rose Quarter, and move them around. If they're not too obvious, they'll record lots of tagger sickos in action. What could that cost -- a few thousand?
To ask the city's property owners to deal with graffiti week after week, the city needs to bring something of benefit to the table. It needs to show as much tenacity and stamina in promoting graffiti cleanup as it's asking the neighbors to demonstrate in the never-ending battle. Right now, the city's falling down on the job, and the neighbors are next. For the City Council to bust people's chops when they buy and sell paint is not the answer.