As Buffalo continues to be graced with beautiful murals, the city continues to battle taggers who deface public property. We see lame tags on buildings, street signs, mailboxes, etc. One of the biggest problems with tags, other than being childish, is that a lot of residents don’t do anything about them. While many people are diligent about calling 311, or painting over the tags, others don’t think to address the problem. Like trash and litter, tags can bring a neighborhood down. That’s why it’s important to take action as soon as they appear.
I recently spoke to Wilmer Olivencia Jr., Program Coordinator for the Anti Graffiti and Clean City Program, who told me just how important it was to call 311 when a tag appears. He said that the call triggers an official to show up at the site, to alert the building owner that there is a problem. The building owner is given an allotted amount of time to remove the scourge, before a fee can be imposed. If the tag is on City property, the City will take care of it.
Aside from taking care of the eyesore, the task force also documents the tag. That means, when the criminal is caught, he or she will have to face charges for each of the tags that is documented. In past cases, that has amounted to up to 1000 hours in community service (removing tags eight hours a day in some instances), steep fines, jail time, and a shout out in the paper. Olivencia told me that he has actually established relationships with a few taggers (that were caught) who now help him to figure out where the tags are coming from. He said that some taggers actually do grow up, and realize that they are defacing the city in a manner that is similar to throwing trash on someone’s lawn each day.
Another important thing to remember is to act quick. Once the tag is up, get it removed. The longer it stays, the more enticing it is for other taggers to spread their filth. According to Olivencia, the task force removes over 300 tags a year, and documents each one in the process. He said that he has a dedicated crew, painting and power washing year round. “Most of the tagging takes place around 2am or 3am, when it’s dark,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean that we can’t catch them. If you see someone in the process of tagging, call the police. If they catch the person responsible, we will hopefully have documentation of similar tags around the city. That’s when we can really go after them. The tagger gets charged per square foot of removal, for each piece that we identify. It can really add up.”
I asked Olivencia if the task force was working on a new app that would provide the community with a technological resource to combat the taggers. I had heard that other cities allowed residents to upload images of tags onto a map, to help identify and catalogue the perpetrators, making it easier for cities to combat the problem. He told me that they were working on an app at the moment, but did not disclose much more than that.
The next time you wonder why The City is not being proactive on removing tags in your neighborhood, be sure to call 311. By making the call, you are already helping the anti-tagging effort on multiple fronts.