Police and city team up for graffiti sweep

 

Police walked the Wedge neighborhood to raise awareness about city’s efforts to crack down on taggers

WEDGE – Minneapolis police officers combed six blocks in the heart of the neighborhood March 20, spreading the word to residents about the city’s graffiti-abatement efforts and offering free cleanup for the day.

Employees from the city’s Solid Waste and Recycling Services scoured the area’s fences, trash cans, light posts and buildings for graffiti, scrubbing anything they found and blasting it away with jets of hot water.

“I hope we can get the residents doing this,” said Solid Waste employee Darryl Maxwell, who had just finished spraying off graffiti “tags” on an alley fence in Lowry Hill East. “We’re in this neighborhood all the time.”

Because of its high number of reports, the area was made part of a six-month pilot project aimed at getting rid of graffiti through intense cleanup sweeps and community education. Minneapolis Police and Solid Waste and Recycling Services are working together on the project, which runs through late September.

The program includes blocks in the middle of Lowry Hill East and a section of Powderhorn Park. If the project is successful, it could be expanded to other parts of the city.

Susan Young, director of Solid Waste and Recycling Services, said the city spends more than $1 million on graffiti abatement each year. Law enforcement, inspections and cleanup crews are included in the cost, she said.

Between April and December of last year, more than 9,600 tags were reported, she said. The city estimates that roughly 400 taggers are out painting the city on a given night. It’s not easy to stay on top of that much vandalism, Young said.

“There is no way we can keep up with all those taggers,” Young said. “We need the community to help us out.”

She’s hopeful that the pilot project will get the community involved in cleaning up their neighborhoods when hit with graffiti.

“The very best defense is to make sure the person who put it up doesn’t see it the next afternoon,” she said.

Former private graffiti investigator Don Davis, who is responsible for numerous vandal convictions, said catching and prosecuting taggers is more effective than cleaning. He said graffiti should be erased, but cleaning won’t solve the problem because taggers do not paint over one another’s marks. He said wiping a wall clean creates a fresh canvas for whoever gets to it first.

Sgt. Giovanni Veliz, a graffiti investigator in the 5th Precinct, said prosecuting taggers is difficult because it requires an eyewitness and testimony. The two-to-three week court process is also discouraging, he said.

Veliz was in the Wedge neighborhood, knocking on doors and passing out graffiti-abatement information with 5th Precinct Sgt. Mike Heyer March 20.

Wedge resident Kevin Knudson, whose property had been hit with graffiti numerous times, was glad to see police and the city encouraging swift abatement but said he would like to see quicker graffiti removal on public structures. Knudson said he noticed recurring gang graffiti in the area.

“It seems to be important to them,” he said.

Insp. Kristine Arneson of the 5th Precinct said gang and other types of graffiti make communities feel unsafe.

“I personally hate graffiti,” she said. “I think it creates fear in neighborhoods, which creates a perception of crime happening.”

Lt. Marie Przynski of the 5th Precinct said she planned to organize a similar effort to the pilot program in hard-hit sections of Lyndale and Kingfield.

City Council Member Elizabeth Glidden (8th Ward) has scheduled a community graffiti cleanup event April 14 in her ward, which includes the Kingfield neighborhood. To get involved, call 612-276-7024.

 

Reach Jake Weyer at 612-436-4367 or jweyer@mnpubs.com.