Around Vancouver, graffiti appears in waves
Graffiti isn’t a victimless crime. Just ask Scott Latham. While some people find the illegal painting appealing, Latham estimates that over a 10-year period, tagging and other forms of vandalism have cost him as much as $20,000.
A vice-president of the West Broadway Business Association and a property owner in the area, Latham told the Straight that graffiti is a problem that his organization discusses on a regular basis.
“Over the last few years up till the present”¦we were just starting to feel like we were getting it under control,” Latham said in a telephone interview. “Then in the last year, we all have commented in our monthly meetings that we’re noticing an increase again.”
Latham noted that it’s difficult to say what’s causing the perceived rise in graffiti. But he also stated that WBBA members started noticing more tagging around the time that the City of Vancouver gutted its graffiti-management program.
In December 2009, Vancouver city council approved a round of budget cuts that withdrew funding for the program. Despite saving the city $300,000 annually, the cutbacks resulted in the loss of an array of tools—such as support for community “paint outs”—long used to keep Vancouver’s graffiti problem at bay.
Two tags in particular seem to have exploded over the past few months. One, an illegible scribble usually found on sidewalks and utility poles, has appeared in dozens of locations along West Broadway and Davie Street, as well as on Granville Street all the way from Kerrisdale to the downtown core. The second, a cleaner piece sprayed in handwriting that reads “I love you”, is equally prolific, found everywhere from Gastown to Kitsilano.
But the anecdotal evidence brought to the Straight’s attention isn’t matched by the Vancouver Police Department’s crime-incident reports.
According to VPD statistics, variation in the monthly number of incidents of mischief—the category graffiti falls into—has barely changed over the past year.
Neal Carley, an assistant engineer with the City of Vancouver, told the Straight by phone that one possible explanation for the apparently negligible change in graffiti incidence is that citizens may have taken matters into their own hands.
“We’ve provided less support to private-property owners,” Carley conceded. “My personal opinion would be that private-property owners have taken up or have stepped up to the plate and are continuing on with the direction of the programs that we had initiated.”
But Const. John Braithwaite, a community policing officer responsible for the Broadway corridor, said he’s noticing more graffiti popping up, and he speculated that incidents are simply going unreported.
His colleague Const. Lindsey Houghton, a spokesperson for the VPD, told the Straight that graffiti outbreaks are known to occur.
“Having worked in youth services for a few years, you see certain ebbs and flows in certain tags,” he explained by phone. “It all depends on the time of year and whether or not a certain youth or young adult is in an area at a given time.”
Houghton said the city’s December budget cuts left vacant the position of the VPD graffiti investigator. But he emphasized that the department’s hundreds of officers are out on the street and monitoring vandalism.
“They know that if all of a sudden we see a graffiti artist doing hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage, we are, of course, going to be assigning detectives and following up on that,” Houghton said.
Jason Statler photo.
Latham agreed that graffiti seems to come in waves. He praised the city’s mural program—which still exists but saw its funding eliminated with the December 2009 budget—as an effective deterrent against tagging.
“We all know that it is the property owner’s responsibility to get graffiti covered up as fast as possible,” Latham said. But, he added, a proactive solution to graffiti is to get a mural painted on a business’s property. “I got one put on one of my buildings and it totally deterred graffiti,” he said.
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