Mayor and local residents go after graffiti

Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Ronald Dwight ’66 has cameras surrounding his house, ivy covering his outside walls and 40 different colors of spray paint. Some mornings, Dwight, a board member of the College Hill Neighborhood Association, can be found roaming the streets as early as 6 a.m. spraying over graffiti left on East Side property during the night.

But Dwight’s efforts have not been enough to eliminate graffiti. Fed up with what they see as a persistent problem, he and his neighbors want to do more to stop the vandalism.

“Vigilante action is being seriously considered,” Dwight said. He and some of his neighbors have discussed forming a group to dress in black and hide out in the neighborhood at night to catch taggers in the act.

“I hope I never catch one,” he joked. “I might kill him.”

Dwight said he believes one reason graffiti continues is because taggers who are caught often receive lenient punishment.

But Mayor David Cicilline ’83 unveiled plans over the summer to address the problem. Back in June, Cicilline announced a new program for cracking down on graffiti and rounding up taggers. Called “Combating Graffiti,” it includes increased penalties for taggers and rewards of up to $500 for individuals who turn them in.

“Graffiti is an assault on the neighborhoods of this city and really does diminish the quality of life in Providence,” Cicilline told reporters during his announcement of the “Combating Graffiti” program on June 29, according to a June 30 article in the Providence Journal.

The new program includes a Graffiti Task Force, a part of the city’s Office of Neighborhood Services, for removing graffiti and rounding up taggers. The task force includes four new employees, two new vans that prominently display Cicilline’s name to patrol the city, a hotline and a Web site. These last two components can be used to report taggers.

As part of an anti-grafitti ordinance passed by the City Council over the summer, vandals face fines of up to $1,000, a drastic increase from the previous maximum fine of $200. They are required to pay damage costs and serve up to 100 hours of a community service – possibly spent removing graffiti – for a first offense and 200 hours for a second offense. Previously, 120 hours of community service was the maximum punishment for vandalism, according to the June 30 Journal article.

“There is no such thing as graffiti as art,” Cicilline said at the June 29 announcement. “It’s against the law in this city. There are lots of other opportunities for artistic outlets.”

Alan Sepe, acting director of public property for the city, is in charge of the task force.

“I think we’re making good progress,” Sepe told The Herald. “(Graffiti) is a problem that’s always going to be there, you just have to stay on top of it.”

The city’s revamped efforts to stem graffiti also involve designating nine Providence Police Department officers to specialize in monitoring graffiti and hunting down taggers. It also holds property owners responsible for removing graffiti between 10 to 15 days after it first appears – though property owners can request help from city workers – and bans the selling or giving of aerosol paint containers and other “graffiti accessories” to minors without written parental consent, according to the June 30 Journal article.

One East Side resident who asked not to be named said that though the task force “sounds good on paper,” its initial activity has been disappointing. He said the task force has only responded to one of three violations he reported on the task force’s Web site.

“There’s a lot of frustration,” he said. “I think a lot of people share the same sentiment.”

One Brown student, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, said he used to be active in the city’s graffiti scene, which he described as “pretty thriving.”

He said most taggers are young kids whose lives would be “screwed up” if they were arrested for vandalism. He expressed doubt about how effective the city’s efforts to combat graffiti will be.

“The kids who are really into it are going to be into it regardless,” he said.

When graffiti appears on Brown’s campus, it is usually removed by Facilities Management. The University’s insurance covers costs of removal, according to John Colarusso, supervisor of structural trades for Facilities Management.

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