Jail inmates and juvenile offenders will begin scrubbing graffiti off more than 150 buildings next month.
It’s part of a new initiative to crack down on the graffiti that has marred many buildings in the city. Workers will start by cleaning off businesses, nonprofit agencies and city-owned property, including hundreds of foreclosed houses the city seized for failure to pay taxes. Many of those are boarded-up and have been repeatedly “tagged.”
Tagging refers to the act of writing a name or symbol on a wall.
After each building is cleaned and repainted, police will increase patrols in hopes of catching people in the act of spray-painting their names on the clean wall.
“Our goal is to maintain that cleaned-up neighborhood,” city Police Chief Brian Kilcullen said.
Anyone arrested with graffiti-making
materials can be charged with a misdemeanor. Those caught actually painting a wall can face felony charges, depending on the amount of damage.
Police are hoping the clean walls will help them make arrests.
“It’s not uncommon for them to come back,” said police spokesman Lt. Mark McCracken. “They have a fresh canvas, so to speak.”
Those who write graffiti often race each other to be the first to tag a cleaned wall, he said.
“It says you’ve been there,” McCracken said.
He said that’s the most common reason for graffiti in Schenectady — but not the only reason.
“Some is gang-related. Some is declaration of territory. Some [are] messages to other gangs,” he said.
Speed is the key to deterrence. Since the messages are written with the intent of having as many people see them as possible, writers are discouraged if their work is covered before many people see it.
But those who want to show off will be given another outlet. After-school arts program Quest will maintain a “positive expression” wall at Jerry Burrell Park, where residents can showcase their spray-painting skills without damaging buildings.
When the wall is covered with paint, Quest students will whitewash it so it can be covered again.
The city has a budget line for graffiti removal, mainly for the cost of paint. But for the new initiative, Home Depot has offered to donate paint and helpers — the company’s workers will volunteer to teach juvenile delinquents professional painting techniques.
They will use a chemical to remove as much of the graffiti as possible before painting over it. So far, the city can’t afford to use graffiti-resistent paint, but Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo said she hoped to add that in the future.
Perazzo spearheaded the initiative. Over the past few months, she called group after group to persuade them to join the program. She is particularly excited about the inclusion of juvenile delinquents.
“The chances that someone in the program has done some tagging or knows someone who has done some tagging is pretty good,” she said.
She hopes scrubbing it off will encourage those teenagers to stop tagging.
There are still some pieces left to work out. For example, Perazzo hasn’t yet gotten permission from railroad companies for their bridges to be repainted. Those bridges are often hit with graffiti that can be seen along the city’s prominent streets downtown, and the graffiti is difficult to remove because cleaners would need tall ladders to get to the bridges.
Perazzo is also still working on a solution for residential graffiti. Although it is more rare, occupied houses and fences are sometimes covered in graffiti.
For now, she can offer free paint. If residents call and give permission for a team of teenagers to remove the graffiti, Perazzo said she could probably add them to the list. She has to resolve liability concerns first.