Friday, October 3, 2008


For years I have been adamant about fighting graffiti in my area. In Los Angeles, you can call 311 and get free graffiti removal from anything on city streets (for freeway removal you have to call Cal Trans). Years before 311 was offered, I would personally go out and buy spray paint and cover up any graffiti that showed up on my street. What's really sad is that in my area, if I don't call 311, the graffiti doesn't get removed. That means that every other resident living near me doesn't care to keep the neighborhood clean and free of graffiti. It also means to me that they don't have pride in ownership of their homes and businesses. I can not fathom how someone can see graffiti on the curb in front of their house or on a sign or signpost on their street, and not remove it!

If I go into a business in my area and see graffiti on the property, I immediately go to a manager, ask them if they have reported it or are doing something personally to clean it up. Luckily, in most cases, the manager has told me that they have either reported it or will be cleaning it up shortly.

If you see graffiti pop up and you don't take care of it - it MULTIPLIES. This is part of what is called the "broken window" theory.

Here is an explanation of the theory from Wikipedia:

"Consider a building with a few broken windows. If the windows are not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building, and if it's unoccupied, perhaps become squatters or light fires inside. Or consider a sidewalk. Some litter accumulates. Soon, more litter accumulates. Eventually, people even start leaving bags of trash from take-out restaurants there or breaking into cars...A successful strategy for preventing vandalism is to fix the problems when they are small. Repair the broken windows within a short time, say, a day or a week, and the tendency is that vandals are much less likely to break more windows or do further damage. Clean up the sidewalk every day, and the tendency is for litter not to accumulate (or for the rate of littering to be much less). Problems do not escalate and thus respectable residents do not flee a neighborhood. The theory thus makes two major claims: that further petty crime and low-level anti-social behavior will be deterred, and that major crime will, as a result, be prevented."

I can tell you from personal experience that eradicating graffiti as soon as it appears WORKS! If you take away the taggers handiwork they will be less compelled to make the effort and come back. Once the graffiti is everywhere it is too overwhelming to clean it all and it also invites more graffiti.

Personally I am exhausted and angered by trying to combat this as a one woman mission. I think for now, I can only really stick to cleaning up my own street, any prominent graffiti I see on Ventura Boulevard, and the freeway entrances and off ramps that I use the most. I just can not keep up with the smaller graffiti that is spreading like a cancer on every signpost, the back of bus benches, and even on the sidewalk.

I have definitely noticed a shift with the taggers in my area - they have moved from large, sprawling graffiti to putting it in areas you are less likely to notice when driving around: the back of signs; very low on the curb; and in little nooks and crannies people don't normally look. But because I walk around my area I actually spot the graffiti that normally you wouldn't when whizzing by in a car.

This week, one particular tagger went to town putting his initials down all over my street - four tags in all. I wanted to nip this tagger in the bud right away. Normally I call 311 to have them clean it up, but it usually take them a few days to a week for them to clean it up. I didn't want to wait that long while the tagger decided to come back and claim more territory, so this time I went to OSH and got gray spray paint (it's very cheap - only $2 dollars a can) and today my father and I went on foot and covered not only these four tags, but EVERY single tag on my street, sidewalk, walls, and signs. We went through one spray can doing the job.

Now I know that there are certain areas where graffiti is as common as traffic. It's everywhere. I honestly don't know what suggestions I can offer in those situations. But, if you live in an area that has not yet been overtaken by graffiti you can keep it GRAFFITI FREE by doing one or all of these three things:

1) Call 311 or Caltrans (1-323-259-2352) to report graffiti and get it removed. 311 is for city streets and buildings - Caltrans is for anything on the freeway. For More info about 311 and the Office of Community Beautification (OCG) can be found at

311 operates 24 hours a day / 7 days a week or you can report graffiti on their online Anti-Graffiti Request System. You will need to provide the street address (or nearest closest address if you don't know the exact number), and usually the closest cross street. That's all that you need. If it is a business, you can give them the business name as well.

Reporting of graffiti over the phone and online can be done anonymously.

2) Buy some spray paint or regular paint and cover up the graffiti yourself. Or you can get free supplies from OCG including paint and rollers. If you decide to clean up graffiti on your own - please be smart and sensible and safe about doing it. Go out in daytime when there's lots of traffic and people around to see you covering up the graffiti (this may also help others realize they can do this too). Take a buddy with if you can. Taggers work under the cloak of darkness - private citizens who are doing their civic duty to clean up their neighborhoods operate in the daytime where EVERYONE can see what they are doing. And this is REALLY IMPORTANT: NEVER GO UP TO A TAGGER AND ASK THEM TO STOP OR TALK TO THEM - SIMPLY CALL 911 AND REPORT IT TO THE POLICE.


Now I just want to add that I am not against graffiti as an art form. I am all for set areas or walls (or canvas) where graffiti is allowed as an artistic outlet. But graffiti tagging is different - it is a statement of gang ownership of a particular area and that invites crime, violence, and more tagging. Someone scrawling their initials in spray paint on the street where I live and on the businesses that I frequent is ugly and a desecration of public and private property. And it's illegal activity to boot!

Here are some photos documenting my graffiti removal:

$2 spray can of gray paint

Small but insidious graffiti on the back of a street sign

My Dad spraying over the graffiti

This huge graffiti was tucked away in a corner where few people passed it, ensuring it's longevity.

I called 311 twice about this location but they couldn't find it so my Dad sprayed over it.

I hope I have inspired you to take charge and keep your city looking clean not shameful.

1 comment:

phillprice said...

hopefully they'll join the 21st century and put outan ipho app where you can take a geotagged photo of it and then they have the exact location and a picture of it too.

I'm glad you're looking after your neighbourhood, I'm not sure of the Hammersmith (London) number but they're crackign down on it here since the Conservative council were voted it, woop!