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Washington Voices

Graffiti remains a challenge

Thu., June 23, 2011

With warmer weather and sunlight lingering into the evening come flowers and blooms and, well, graffiti. Spring and early summer is prime graffiti season, because that’s when fair weather taggers come out to leave their marks all over town.

The city’s graffiti abatement officer, Eric Walker, is on a tireless crusade against tags, obscene language and drawings that show up on Spokane’s walls, windows and fences.

Walker was the featured speaker at a recent meeting of the Neighborhood Business Center Advisory Team. Representatives from many neighborhoods were at the meeting and they all said the same thing: Graffiti is a big problem, it is vandalism, it is expensive and difficult to remove, and it doesn’t seem to make a difference that it’s reported.

Walker respectfully disagreed with the last statement.

“Reporting graffiti does help,” he said. “I see all the reports and even if we can’t come out on the day you call, having the report helps us establish patterns and identify areas that are being tagged heavily.”

One of Walker’s jobs is to cite property owners who don’t remove graffiti.

Initially, they get a letter saying there’s graffiti on their property and alerting them to the 10-day deadline for removal.

“I send out those letters every day, and sometimes people get angry because they feel victimized by us,” said Walker. “That’s not the point. We want to work with them. But it’s unlikely that we will catch the graffiti vandals and have them remove the graffiti so in the meantime we need the graffiti to come down.”

Absentee landlords are a huge problem, especially if their houses sit vacant.

Sometimes property owners aren’t aware that the graffiti is there. Walker had a case recently where a woman called and was very upset about being cited. It turned out she didn’t know the graffiti was on her garage in a back alley because she hadn’t been back there in a long time.

“It would help a lot if people inspect their property more frequently,” said Walker. “I think sometimes they become complacent.”

He estimates that 10 to 12 percent of graffiti in Spokane is gang related.

It’s a myth reinforced by TV shows and movies that removing graffiti makes the vandals come back for revenge.

“They don’t care about you, they just want to use your wall as a way of communication – as their newspaper,” said Walker.

Paint graffiti is by far the most common, but taggers also use stickers and Sharpies.

Removing the graffiti can be very difficult. Walker has generated a list of methods that seem to work, but nothing is bulletproof.

“If you are looking at a big job, contact a professional,” said Walker. “We don’t want people to get hurt using chemicals in inappropriate ways.”

If a large area has been tagged, painting over the graffiti may be the easiest and cheapest way to get rid of it. Use latex paint because it’s easier to clean up and less expensive than oil paint. Some property owners have success using a sealer on top of the fresh paint. The sealer makes it easier to remove new graffiti.

Elderly or disabled property owners may be able to get graffiti removal help from their neighborhood COPS shop.

The Downtown Spokane Partnership has a Clean Team that removes graffiti and tags within the downtown area on a daily basis. Some neighborhoods host cleanup days or blockwide graffiti removal efforts.

“The best way to curb graffiti is to remove it as soon as it shows up,” said Walker. “And sometimes you have to remove it again and again.”

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