February 26, 2008 |

Graffiti Task Force trying to get upper hand on vandalism

A group of 19 concerned South Siders including Zone 3 Commander Larry Ross and City Councilman Bruce A. Kraus met on Tuesday, February 19th to discuss how to get the upper hand and overcome graffiti vandalism.

After introductions, Chairperson Steve Root said that reporting graffiti vandalism to 311 should be done in cases where the tag has remained on a property where action has not been taken or, if it is a city or federally owned property or public place. This can be done through the mayor's 311 Hotline or the city's 311 website.

Several additional properties were reported as having been "tagged" or marked with graffiti since the last meeting. A guide to how to report to 311 was developed to help people with the process.

Commander Ross explained that following a 311 report, Graffiti Busters will power wash or paint over vandalism on property up to 10 feet above ground. He said legislation has changed in Pittsburgh to charge vandals by the square foot for restitution purposes. This trend began in Chicago and has been effective.

911 should be called by a property owner as soon as possible after graffiti vandalism happens. A police officer will be sent to photograph the tag and note the color, character, and if it is a gang symbol. The victim will be given a complaint number to reference the case. The information will be forwarded to the Police graffiti Task Force.

The victim may then remove or paint over the tag. Also the victim can contact Graffiti Busters to remove it once reported and documented. If a church or school is tagged, the crime is boosted up to "institutional vandalism," a higher charge.

Commander Ross stressed the importance of calling 911, saying he needs to have a volume of reports to validate the problem. If the commander can report to his superiors that there are three cases of vandalism per day in Zone 3, resources can be dedicated to fight this crime.

He clarified that the graffiti should be reported to 911 by the owner if it is on their property and to 311 if the graffiti is on another person's property. The Zone 3 Commander stressed the need for reporting and prompt removal of graffiti, pushing for prosecution of graffiti vandals, citizen attendance at court hearings to call attention to the community concern, and that nothing can be done of legal recourse if 911 is not called.

Each committee then gave an update of work that has been done since the last meeting:

Paint Out – in October graffiti was painted over on Carey Way from 23rd to 24th Streets. It remains graffiti free.

Funding – Councilman Kraus reported he has met with UPMC South Side Hospital to discuss funding. He plans to approach three other South Side Business stakeholders to fund the removal effort.

Education & Enforcement – an hour-long committee meeting was held prior to the meeting and much work was reported. The first item is to prepare a release to have posted on the South Side associations' websites: South Side Slopes Neighborhood Association, South Side Community Council, South Side Local Development Company and South Side Chamber of Commerce.

It will explain the mission and purpose of Graffiti Watch and have resource documents to help understand the process of reporting and cleaning.

Another way to get the word out is to have articles in The South Pittsburgh Reporter so that South Siders know the process. In anticipation of meetings and paint outs, press releases will be sent to all media sources.

For enforcement, the connection with the Police Graffiti Task Force will be strengthened by increased interaction through a point person. Dates of hearings involving graffiti vandals will be forwarded through email to be sure that concerned persons attend.

Database – Maps were provided of the South Side Neighborhoods to be used to accurately document address with location of tagged properties, so that they may be quantified and documented. In the near future, dozens of volunteers will be needed to walk property to property to make a list of graffiti sites and to identify property owners who will then be encouraged to and offered assistance to remove the graffiti. Following that effort, 311 can be notified with specific issues to be documented and addresses by Graffiti Busters.

Adopt-A-Spot – is a new community intervention that is being developed and will be undertaken for people to be able to keep an eye on specific graffiti sites that are of concern to them. After the graffiti has been cleaned or painted over by Graffiti Busters, the individual who has adopted the spot will continue to monitor the site in the interest of keeping it free from graffiti. If someone is troubled by the graffiti at a location, they will be helped through the 311 process (if it is public space or has remained unaddressed for a length of time).

Councilman Kraus reported he looked in to reconvening the Citywide Graffiti Task Force to follow up and renew the effort. Many of the previous participants are no longer in the area. This may be addressed in another way through City Council in the future.

The group hopes to have a representative from Graffiti Busters at the March 18 meeting. Meetings are held on the third Tuesday of the month at 7 p.m. at the Brashear Center, 2005 Sarah Street. All are welcome.

Anyone interested in becoming involved should contact the South Side Graffiti Watch at graffitiwatch@gmail.com or call Sarah Alessio at PA Resources Council 412-488-7490 x236.

The South Side Graffiti Watch began as a committee of the South Side Community Council last summer. The organization is compiled of homeowners, renters, business owners and employees, student volunteers in the South Side Slopes and Flats and includes a City Councilman and District Justice. The mission of the Graffiti Watch is to "Report, Remove, Prevent, and Eliminate Graffiti in the South Side."

The group meets monthly and welcomes interested volunteers. Several Committees have formed including Data Base, Education & Enforcement, Adopt-A-Spot, Paint Out, and Funding. As you may have seen in the media, a paint-out was done in the fall along Carey Way, which remains graffiti free.

Submitted By

Beverly Boggio

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