Getting a grip on graffiti: Phoenix fights back

Neighborhood Services deputy director Tim Boling testifies against taggers in court.

Getting a grip on graffiti: Phoenix fights back

CREATED Aug 15, 2012

Reporter:  Jessica Chapin

TUCSON (KGUN9- TV) - Just two hours away, there's a city that claims to be a world leader in graffiti abatement.  Phoenix's Neighborhood Services department handles things like housing rehabilitation, code enforcement and graffiti. 

Their program has three prongs: abatement, education and enforcement.  They removed more than 80 thousand acts of vandalism last year using city crews and volunteers.  A blight buster program even trains volunteers in the tools and organizing efforts to start clean-up events, with 120 graduates.  A tool-lending program makes paint and bushes available for volunteers who need them.

In addition to volunteers, 10 trucks specifically equipped for graffiti removal canvas the city for tags and respond to complaints.  They take photos of the tag and upload it into a database before color-matching the area and painting over whatever needs cleaning. 

When it comes to enforcement, that database can track a specific tagger, allowing a judge to hold them accountable for every act of vandalism they committed.  The minimum sentence for an adult is 10 days in jail, a $1000 fine and restitution.  Juveniles get a minimum of two days in juvenile hall, 40 hours of community service and they can't get their license until they've paid restitution.

"When vandals are caught, we really take it to them," said Neighborhood Services deputy director Tim Boling, "We'll go and testify and say 'Hey judge we can show you that this tag, we've removed it over 200 times in the last 6 months.'"

The city also puts a lot of effort into spreading awareness and educating the public.  Magnets with their hotline and website inform the public on how they can report graffiti.  A smart phone app also allows the public to submit their own graffiti reports and pictures. The city has answered more than 23 thousand since the beginning of the year.

"I feel that the city of Phoenix has one of the best programs in the world," said Boling, "We've had individuals from Germany and New Zealand come and see what we do and how we keep Phoenix as clean as we do."

Dallas and Denver also modeled their programs after Phoenix.  It has grown since 1989 to the $2 million comprehensive program that covers the city's 526 square miles.

"One of the things we tell the other cities when they come to check out our program is you have to address it comprehensively, and you have to address it as quickly as possible," said Boling.

9 On Your Side still found graffiti inside the city limits, but employees say the job is never-ending.   Crews work 7 days a week to combat the crime.

"It's a big problem, it's everybody's problem," said Boling, "and that's why we try to get everybody involved in removing graffiti."

For more information on the program, click here.

For information on Tucson's graffiti abatement, click here.