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Graffiti Removal Speeds Up as New Reports Decline

By Ted Cox | September 4, 2014 10:56am
 Graffiti removal is on the increase and new reports are declining.
Graffiti removal is on the increase and new reports are declining.
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City of Chicago/Patrick Pyszka

CITY HALL — The Department of Streets and Sanitation boasts of removing graffiti more rapidly this year than a year ago, a trend helped along in that new reports are declining since the City Council passed a crackdown doubling fines in July.

"We're getting fewer calls, which is a benefit, and hopefully that is a direct impact of the new ordinance," said Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Charles Williams.

According to Department of Streets and Sanitation figures released Wednesday, the city logged 81,703 graffiti-removal requests through August this year, down from 92,980 over the same time last year. At the same time, city crews have removed 82,858 pieces of graffiti through August this year, closer to the 91,821 removed at this time a year ago.

 Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Charles Williams says, "Graffiti is not art," adding, "It's a crime. It shouldn't happen."
Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Charles Williams says, "Graffiti is not art," adding, "It's a crime. It shouldn't happen."
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

That has cut the average lag time almost in half, from 6.75 days from report to removal last year to 3.62 days this summer, according to the department.

The city is spending almost $5 million this year on graffiti removal, up $1 million from last year. The extra funding has paid for two more blasting crews, an additional painting crew and two chemical graffiti-removal trucks.

"Graffiti will always remain a challenge," Williams said, acknowledging that it tends to run in unpredictable cycles driven by gangs and popular culture.

Gang graffiti is particularly cyclical, in that one piece is likely to spur others in response. The city's rapid response is key in that case.

"Certainly, we attack it," Williams said. "We take gang graffiti very seriously."

The problem is worse along major boundary lines, such as Archer Avenue. "Unfortunately, in that area you have a lot of gang graffiti," Williams said. "It becomes very territorial."

Graffiti spurred by popular culture can be almost as insidious. "Some elements of society kind of glamorize it, where they try to compare graffiti to art," Williams said. "Graffiti is not art.

"It's just such a senseless thing to do," he added. "The random tagging of someone's property without their permission, that's damage to property. That has nothing to do with art. It's a crime. It shouldn't happen."

According to the city's Data Portal, new graffiti reports fell below 10,000 a month for the first time in years in July, at 9,731, and fell again in August to 9,222. That also ran counter to seasonal trends, as last August's 14,936 graffiti reports were the most of any month in 2013.

Those figures are unofficial, in that they can include duplicate removal requests for the same graffiti, but they still indicate a dramatic reduction from year to year.

Although the report is timed with the increase in fines, Ald. Nicholas Sposato (36th) was dubious that the fine hike had an impact. "I would guess it's a nonfactor," he said. "Most of these criminals don't even know what the laws and the fines are.

"Good to see it down in the summer, though, because that's when it usually gets heated up," Sposato added. "They really go nuts when it seems to be warmer weather."

Streets and Sanitation spokeswoman Molly Poppe confirmed that, saying, "During the summer months, the city typically sees the most requests for graffiti removal."

Yet, even in this January's brutal Chiberia winter, the city posted 10,167 reports for graffiti removal, more than in July or August.

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