Graffiti: What it Means, What to Do
Behind the Badge: A Message from Sheriff Ted Mink
Updated July 2012
Help for removing graffiti from private property
Whom to call about graffiti on public property
Graffiti has existed since the beginning of time in one form or another, from hieroglyphics to petroglyphs to rock outcroppings along the Oregon Trail. However, today's brand of spray-painted self-expression is viewed less as art and more as an eyesore to motorists and property owners who must view it, or worse - remove it.
In the second half of the 20th century, urban gangs began using graffiti as a territorial marker. This practice, known as "tagging," continues today, but is now practiced by people unaffiliated with gang activity as well.
Young males between 13 and 25 create most of the graffiti that's out there. A "tagger" will usually use a pen, marker, or spray-paint to put a unique design in a public place. The design will be proprietary to the tagger and may be initials, an illustration, or a combination of numbers and letters that is unique -- like a signature. Most tags represent the tagger's nickname, and tend to be short so as to make them easier to complete quickly.
Tagging in its most basic form is nothing more than advertisement for its author. Promience, difficulty, and proliferation of one's tag gain the author status in the tagging community. Individual taggers or "tagging crews" of friends account for most of the graffiti you may see. In one incident, the Sheriff's Office caught a tagging crew spray-painting an underpass; they were carrying digital cameras to document their activities and share with their friends.
Graffiti can also be simple vandalism, or criminal mischief. While tagging is serial in nature, vandalism is not. Tagging is an ongoing effort to place one's signature in multiple locations; vandalism is usually a single occurrence. Vandalism can be used to express political views or personal feelings, or to display one's artistic talents on a public canvas. This type of graffiti can vary from "Billy loves Sally" carved into a picnic table to large colorful artistic wall murals.
Vandals may also deface property for the sake of defacing it. Markings from vandalism may not be any recognizable signature -- just a message or a mess of paint.
Gangs use graffiti to mark territory and as a way to communicate both internally and externally. Gang graffiti is usually simple, as its authors are more interested in marking territory and communicating short messages than they are in artistic expression.
A tag created by a gang member features the name of his gang. Tag wars occur when members of another gang use another color to cross it out and leave their own tag. Gangs undergo this process to claim their turf. The more artistic the image, the more likely it's the work of a tagger crew and not a gang. Gangs don't bother as much with art; they are concerned only about making their presence known.
Graffiti in Jeffco
About 70 percent of graffiti in Jeffco is tagging that is not gang related. The Sheriff's Office views graffiti as a crime, as well as a quality-of-life issue for residents. In addition to making arrests for criminal mischief when possible, the Sheriff's Office documents graffiti in an attempt to identify taggers.
Because of the serious crimes perpetuated by organized criminal organizations (gangs), the Sheriff's Office closely monitors all gang related activity.
What You Can Do
Report new graffiti to the Sheriff's Office as soon as you see it by calling our non-emergency number: 303-277-0211. The Sheriff's Office will send a crime scene technician to photograph the graffiti so that we can try to identify the tagger, as well as analyzing it to determine if it's an indication of gang activity.
A property owner is responsible for graffiti on his or her own property. If your property or business is affected by tagging, your best course is to paint over the markings as soon as possible (after contacting the Sheriff's Office to document the incident), to discourage tag wars on your property and the surrounding area.
Go to the Message From the Sheriff archive.
Tips for Removing Graffiti
Prompt removal is usually the most effective
- Always use the gentlest means of removal possible to avoid damaging the surface
- Test your technique on a small area to be sure it is effective and will not damage your property
- Hire a professional to remove graffiti from valuable property such as signs/lighting, historical monuments, etc.
- Try wiping the graffiti from the surface using any common paint thinner or penetrating oil
- If graffiti remains, try rubbing the surface with steel wool or sandpaper
- Next try washing the surface with a power washer
- If graffiti still remains, paint over it
- If the wood is not weathered and it is sealed with paint, stain, or sealer, try to remove the graffiti by wiping the surface with mineral spirits. If the wood is weathered or not sealed, do not use this technique as the mineral spirits will be absorbed into the wood and will drive the paint deeper into the grain.
- Next try washing the surface with a power washer. Again be careful to not drive the paint deeper into the wood.
- If graffiti still remains, sand the wood and re-paint the surface.
- Try wiping the graffiti with a light penetrating oil. Do not use paint thinners as they can soften and discolor the plastic.
- Next try lightly rubbing the surface with steel or bronze wool.
- If graffiti still remains, paint over it.
- Most graffiti can be removed from glass using a razor blade to scrape it off the surface. Use a razor blade in a holder and scrape at a 30 degree angle to the glass.
- Next try lightly rubbing the surface with ultra-fine bronze wool and water. Be careful not to use too much pressure as it could scratch the glass.
- Power washing the surface is the best method of removing graffiti from masonry and concrete. Do not exceed 700 psi and do not use too narrow a tip as you could etch the surface.
- Sandblasting can also be used on these types of surfaces. Be sure to keep the tip moving to avoid etching the surface and to blend the colors.
- If graffiti still remains, paint over it.
More on Graffiti
What is Graffiti?
Graffiti is any symbol, word, or writing that is painted, inscribed, written, or otherwise applied to property without the owner's consent. Graffiti is a crime, not just a nuisance.
Three Types of Graffiti
- Tagging. Tagging represents about 80% of all graffiti incidents in unincorporated Jefferson County. "Taggers" vandalize property for visibility and notoriety. A tagger's goal is to get his or her tag (signature) in as many places as possible. Special notice is given by the tagging community to more complicated tags, those that are difficult to remove, those that are not quickly removed, and those in difficult to reach locations.
- Vandalism. This type of graffiti can be directed in a hateful way towards a particular group or organization but also includes bathroom wall scribbling, etc.
- Gang-related. Used as communication between gang members both internally and externally. Less than 10% of graffiti in unincorporated Jefferson County is gang related.
What Should I Do About Graffiti?
- Report graffiti to the appropriate law enforcement agency as soon as possible.
- Graffiti removal is the responsibility of the property owner. The best method of preventing graffiti from spreading and from reoccurring is to remove it as quickly as possible, preferably within 24-48 hours.
Quick Reference Numbers for Graffiti Removal in Jefferson County
- Along state and interstate highways (C-470, I-70, US Hwy 285), call the Colorado Department of Transportation at 303-757-9514
- Along county highways and roadways, call Jeffco Road & Bridge at 303-271-5200
- In Denver Mountain Parks, call 303-697-4545
- For Foothills Park & Recreation facilities, call 303-409-2300
- For RTD bus shelters or park-n-ride facilities, call 303-299-6000
- For telephone, utility, and cable television equipment, call the company that owns the box (the telephone number is usually located on a sticker on the outside of the equipment). For FSH pay phones, call 1-800-477-7211, option 2.
- For trash dumpsters, call the company that owns the dumpster (the telephone number is usually located near the company logo)
- On billboards and bus benches, contact the advertising company that owns the property (the telephone number is usually located on the base of the billboard of bus bench). You can also contact Jeffco Highways & Transportation at 303-271-8495.
- If you do not know who the owner is or need further assistance, contact the Sheriff's Office Crime Prevention Unit at 720-377-2002 or 303-271-5363
Behind the Badge Archive
Jul 12, 2012 03:24 PM