The subjects of tagging and graffiti ares one that are oft disputed and although many people can’t agree on the topics, the taggers continue to leave their marks on this city. Normally when I see a stop sign with a tag on it I don’t get too upset (it’s a an ugly blemish that can be easily fixed). Unfortunately, I know that that tag will most likely lead to other tags… in other places. Often times, derelict buildings are prime candidates for getting tagged. It’s considered the Broken Window Theory – blight will attract more blight.
In the past I have stated that I don’t like tags, but I can appreciate beautiful graffiti. Tagging is pretentious, ugly and juvenile. Masterful graffiti is art. Recently I’ve noticed that a couple of wonderful brick buildings in the city have been getting hit with serious tags. One building sits at the corner of Main and Utica. The other is located near the corner of Bryant and Ashland. The building on Main Street was painstakingly renovated a year ago, which makes the tags even more disgusting. The building on Bryant is fully occupied and sits in a quiet residential neighborhood. It’s attacks like these that contribute to bringing neighborhoods down, and it is my hope that The City does more to try to catch the culprits who continue to pollute Buffalo. Without stiffer penalties, taggers will continue to tag.
Interview with Joyce M. Emke Security Program Manager at Buffalo Place Inc:
1) What is the punishment for getting caught these days?
Each Judge has the right to punish as he/she sees fit. Most Judges will give probation and community service; however, several years ago, we did have one defendant get a prison sentence. You can check the laws: PL 145.60 Making graffiti – class A misdemeanor; PL 145.65 Possession of graffiti instruments-class B misdemeanor.
2) What should building owners and communities do when they notice graffiti and tags in their neighborhoods?
The property owners should make out a police report, take pictures of the damage, and make sure the date is on the picture, and email a copy of the picture to either Sam Lunetta or me (Joyce Emke). The Regional Anti-Graffiti Task Force reviews the pictures and keeps up with arrests. If the tagger is caught and arrested, we look through our files to find other incidents of his/her tag and we will notify the DA’s office. Sometimes this helps to show the Judge that he/she is a chronic tagger. People should also call 311 to notify the city that the property needs to be cleaned up. If there is a block club, they should be notified as well. Property owners should make every effort to clean the property quickly and completely. Taggers may come back a couple of times but if the tag keeps getting removed quickly, taggers usually don’t bother after the 3rd time.
3) Is there an organization that people can get in touch with to remove the tags, or is it the sole responsibility of the building owner?
It is the sole responsibility of the building owner. The city will remove it and charge the property owner. More information regarding this can be found in the City of Buffalo charter – 341-7.
4) How can we get tougher penalties for those who are caught?
There are many things we are looking at including meeting with the Judges to keep them informed about the extent of damage taggers cause. Property owners showing up in court with their neighbors or at least writing letters can also have an impact on the Judges. Always make out a police report and take pictures to make sure we can provide additional information to the DA when necessary.
5) Are we making progress in the realm of tag prevention, or are we spinning our wheels?
There have been many arrests in the past several years. The press is definitely covering graffiti arrests and issues more. People are more aware of what to do – although we have a ways to go. The police have had training regarding taggers as well as gang graffiti. It is a high hill to climb but we keep on moving.
6) Are there any taggers out there who have recently been caught? If so who are they and how were they reprimanded?
There are several cases pending. Two taggers are going to be sentenced in March.
7) Anything else? Here is something you may not know.
Check out City Ordinance 222-1 (4). Even if cashiers knew about this ordinance, it seems that many of the taggers either steal the paint or order from the internet. If you look up graffiti on the internet, there are so many sites that sell spray paint, computer programs, and display taggers’ pictures of graffiti. In stores, you can find t-shirts, notebooks, pictures, and so much more with the graffiti style. The Albright-Knox Art Gallery as well as the Downtown Erie County Library have offered classes teaching graffiti. So, what’s the difference between graffiti and art? Having permission to put your art on the side of the building will turn illegal tags into art. But, that’s not what the graffiti culture is about.