Schiff proposes locking up spray paint in effort to deter graffiti

Councilmember Gary Schiff (9th Ward) wants to take the fight against graffiti to the source of the problem – in the stores where spray paint is sold.

Schiff has introduced an ordinance that would require that spray paint be sold behind locked cabinets clearly stating that current city law prohibits anyone age 17 or younger from buying spray paint. Schiff also wants to work with surrounding cities such as St. Paul and Bloomington so that young adults don’t simply drive to a neighboring area for easy access to spray paint. While Schiff acknowledges that the measure is only one part of what needs to be a comprehensive attack on graffiti, he said it’s a start.

“When we arrest people for graffiti, particularly gang graffiti, we are arresting juveniles. So they are getting a hold of spray paint somehow – either buying it outside the city of Minneapolis or buying it within the city of Minneapolis without somebody checking,” Schiff said.

Graffiti is at the top of the list of concerns for residents who call the city’s 311 helpline, Schiff said. Most storeowners seem to know that city law prohibits the sale of spray paint to anyone age 17 or younger, he said. SAFE officers went to hardware stores and other shops in his ward, Schiff said, and found the biggest problem was with dollar stores that got occasional shipments of spray paint and sold whole flat loads to people.

“With a lock the employee has to interact with the sale,” Schiff said. “That’s going to be our best way to make sure that the current law is enforced.”

But Scott Moore, a Lyndale Neighborhood Association Graffiti Task Force member, is skeptical that locking up spray paint will effectively fight graffiti and other forms of vandalism. He said the measure assumes that the people who are committing graffiti crimes are juveniles under the age of 18 and that they’re buying the spray paint themselves. Moore said he’s seen evidence to the contrary on both of those assumptions.

“I would like to see a complete shift in thinking toward punishing the vandals instead of the victims,” Moore said. “This is one more hoop that our law-abiding citizens have to go through.”

But Schiff argues that with the city spending more than $250,000 each year on graffiti removal, it’s time to try new prevention methods. Police do arrest vandals, he said, but often end up with juveniles charged with their first offense who receive nominal punishment in the judicial system.

“Particularly with gang graffiti, which is a problem in my district, arresting one juvenile who is a member of a gang does nothing to stop the other 100 members of a gang,” Schiff said.