Friday, July 4, 2008

Tag You're It - part 2

Graffiti really bothers me.

I think that it tells people who want to commit various crimes that Middletown is Open for Business. I do not think it is a beautification issue. I think it is a public safety issue.

Even if some of the graffiti is just vandalism and is not linked to a larger gang problem, I think that leaving it up shows that we tolerate a high level of uncivil behavior -- and I think that's the wrong message.

Last year the Downtown Business District (DBD) and the Central Business Bureau (CBB) focused a lot of energy on this problem. The police caught some of the people doing the graffiti, they were prosecuted, assigned community service, then we (the DBD) bought the product to clean the graffiti, and supervised the people who were caught as they did their community service cleaning up the tags in the downtown. This took a lot of effort and attention on the part of several people: Marie Kalita Leary (Downtown Manager), Vinnie Amato (for pressing for a process of having those caught do the clean-up), the Downtown Guides (particulary Dennis), and Police Chief Baldoni and the downtown beat cops and lots of others. Eventually, all the graffiti in the DBD and Main Street corridor was removed, unless a building owner refused help.

Of course, eventually, when the warm weather returned, the grafitti came back. But this year, it's not appearing in the areas that are covered by those organizations -- and any graffiti that DOES appear in the DBD is quickly cleaned by the Downtown Guides. Instead, the graffiti runs in a ring around the Main Street area.

At this point, much of the graffiti is on public property -- such as street signs and those electrical boxes (not sure who is really in charge of those.) In early Spring this year, my kids and I compiled a list of all the graffiti we could find, which we gave to the Police, and we gave Public Works and Wesleyan a list of the graffiti on their property -- and both did clean some of it up (for example, under the highway bridges on DeKoven/East Main in the photos from the earlier post on this subject). But now there is a lot more and we seem to have some very persistent taggers. There's no doubt that when it comes to graffiti, when you clean it up, it will get replaced and this escalates until one side gives up -- and unfortunately, we seem to be the ones who have given up. I think part of the problem is that it costs time and money for Public Works to clean up graffiti -- and if you don't check it EVERY DAY then the clean-up is not as effective as it might be. Also, I know the police have done various stake-outs and other methods to try to catch more of the perpetrators, but as you can imagine, it's a little random. In cases of continued re-tagging, like the electrical box across from the Synagogue, I wonder if a camera might be useful. So, it's important for citizens to be advocating for graffiti clean-up and to ask the Mayor to support Public Works and the Police in making this a priority.

I'd welcome any suggestions that anyone has about how to tackle this problem.

As for the few private property owners who have graffiti on their buildings, like the gas station on South Main shown in the last post, anyone reading this is welcome to stop by those businesses and ask them to please paint over the graffiti -- it's been there a long time. And if they haven't reported to the police that they have been the victim of vandalism, then they should do that -- but it's time to move ahead and clean up the mess.

(Photos: Pearse Pinch)

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