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Graffiti – The Writing's on the Wall

Graffiti is a major worldwide contemporary urban problem. Cleaning up graffiti vandalism costs the USA well over $8 billion a year. In Brighton and Hove, removing graffiti costs the city council over a quarter of a million pounds a year. According to Councillor Gill Mitchell, Environment Committee Chairwoman, the cost of cleaning graffiti from council buildings alone is £140,000 annually. The Royal Pavilion was daubed a couple of years ago, and because stonework is more absorbent, the cleaning bill ran into thousands of pounds.

Apart from the enormous cost, residents and visitors find areas with graffiti intimidating and think no-one cares about the area and that no-one is in charge. It gives the impression that the area is unsafe, so that people don't shop there and don't go there in the evenings. Furthermore, graffiti reduces property values in an area. It is therefore imperative to tackle this menace.

The Graffiti Strategy Group was set up by the Business Forum to develop a strategy to tackle graffiti in the city centre. Representatives included businesses, police, the Council, and the Youth Offending Team. They take a three-pronged approach: clean it, prevent it, and punish the offenders. They supply graffiti buster boxes (graffiti removal kits), and give advice on how to keep graffiti to a minimum. They organise clean-up days, and are hoping to have one in September or October this year.

The Business Forum is trying to encourage as many people as possible to take responsibility for their own patch. If every trader in the city looks out for the area around their own premises, and home owners do the same, then the problem will be much easier to contain.

At a recent meeting of the Criminal Damage Group, a Council initiative, it was decided to set up a separate group to focus on graffiti, which will subsume the Graffiti Strategy Group. The new group will have a wider remit, as it will not just be concerned with business premises, and will not just focus on the city centre.

As part of a joint crackdown by the police and the council, the police are seeking curfews and banning orders for graffiti vandals. Taggers can even be jailed, however, there was anger in August when the first tagger to be jailed was released after only one week following a successful appeal brought by his family.

The owners of buildings which have been vandalised with graffiti are to be targeted as well. The government has given new powers to Brighton and Hove City Council to serve notices on owners, obliging them to allow council cleaners on to their property to clear up graffiti. This came into effect in March 2005.

It is important to report graffiti as soon as it appears. Each report to the police is logged, and the more calls received relating to graffiti, the higher up the priority list it goes. Also, if it is a tag, this may be able to be used as evidence when building up a case against an individual. If possible take a picture of a tag before removing it, and note the location and date you first noticed it. The number to call to report graffiti to the police is. The Council Hotline is. Callers are required to give their names and addresses. The hotline took so many calls after it was set up this spring that an extra case worker had to be hired. Report any racist or offensive graffiti to the Cityclean Helpline on and they will aim to clean it off asap.

The government is considering the idea of £500 rewards to anyone who names the most infamous graffiti taggers.

Research in cities around the world shows that the only solution for graffiti is to clean it off as soon as it appears, and to keep cleaning it off. However, many graffiti removal and restoration efforts can leave surfaces looking as bad, or even worse than before.

It is easier, more effective and quicker to remove graffiti using appropriate chemicals than to paint over it. If cleaning off graffiti with a power washer, direct the jet of water at a steep angle to undercut the graffiti, allowing it to peel off from the surface. Coming straight at the graffiti to be removed may drive it further into the surface.

If you have to paint over graffiti, place a cloth on the ground to prevent paint dripping onto the surrounding area. If possible use a product such as “Stain Stop” from Polycell to spray over the graffiti first to seal the surface and provide a stable base to paint over so that the graffiti does not bleed through as easily. Paint the whole area, not just the graffiti, trying to colour match the original colour in order to avoid a patchwork effect., as this does not seem to defer graffiti vandals but provides them with a new canvas. If the original colour cannot be matched, repaint the entire surface. If this is not possible, paint the entire surface from ground level up to a certain height, making sure than the line of paint is clean and straight. Remember to keep a spare pot of paint for future repainting. Finally, an anti-graffiti coating should be applied to make future removal easier.

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