South Side Graffiti Watch tackles tagging within the neighborhood
Evan Skowvron, Point Park News Service
Jeff Neubauer, 64, of South Side, uses a paint roller to reach graffiti on the 15th Street Bridge.
South Side resident Steve Root says keeping his neighborhood clean is not just a goal but a mindset.
Mr. Root organizes regular events aimed at painting over graffiti in the area as a member of the South Side Community Council and head of the neighborhood’s Graffiti Watch.
“We’re trying to keep South Side clean and beautiful,” he said. “It’s really important.”
Mr. Root moved to South Side in 2006. After visiting New Orleans to help with post-Hurricane Katrina cleanup, he decided South Side needed to be cleaned up as well.
“I contacted the South Side Community Council, and we began to start tracking graffiti in the area and painting over it if we could,” Mr. Root said.
The process got support from both the South Side Community Council and Pittsburgh police. Comprised entirely of volunteers, the Graffiti Watch meets up regularly to identify tags and paint over them.
“We’ve divided up South Side into ten zones. Volunteers for each zone find examples of graffiti and we paint over them,” he explained. “People are constantly on the lookout. It’s a constant effort to keep South Side clean.”
Gail Matchett, a board member of the South Side Community Council, also volunteers regularly for Graffiti Watch. She said the volunteer work is important to the overall look of South Side.
“Since the (Pittsburgh Police) Graffiti Task Force was shut down, we’ve been trying to keep on top of everything with volunteers only,” she said. “It’s been hard.”
In April, acting police Chief Regina McDonald disbanded the task force, citing the need for the task force’s three officers to deal with other, more-pressing needs.
“I thought it was a big mistake,” Ms. Matchett said. “The task force has been so important to our efforts. Their help led to arrests and restitutions for the city.”
The Graffiti Task Force provided an effective and important service, said Pittsburgh City Council District 3 Councilman Bruce Kraus.
“It’s a team effort,” Mr. Kraus said. “Graffiti Watch is one part of it. We need the whole team.”
Pittsburgh Police Lt. Ed Trapp did not immediately respond to a request for comment on either graffiti or the Graffiti Task Force.
Graffiti Watch volunteer Jim Sheridan said despite the loss of the Graffiti Task Force, tagging in South Side seems to be on the decline.
“I think we’re winning,” he said. “Drive through some of the harder-hit areas. They are washed with tags, and it’s disgusting. Drive through the South Side then. The place is beautiful. We’re winning.”
Mr. Root agrees.
“The graffiti was much worse in 2007,” he said. “Now we’re getting it under control.”
Even though he believes the graffiti problem is getting better, Mr. Root said the Graffiti Watch must stay vigilant.
“If we ignore it, we’ll lose balance,” he said. “There are many sites we’ve painted over that weren’t tagged again. That shows that if you paint over it, the less likely it is for it to be tagged again. We’re trying to keep South Side clean and beautiful. It’s really important.”