Graffiti: City Council to consider beefing up city’s abatement program

January 18, 2008
Santa Paula City Council

With recent serious outbreaks of vandalism, the City Council will be asked at Tuesday’s meeting to consider several options to beef up the city’s Graffiti Abatement program.

By Peggy KellySanta Paula TimesWith recent serious outbreaks of vandalism, the City Council will be asked at Tuesday’s meeting to consider several options to beef up the city’s Graffiti Abatement program. The January 22 meeting - delayed one day due to the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday - will start at 6:30 p.m. and be televised live on Time Warner Cable Channel 10. Meeting repeats will be aired per schedule.The anti-graffiti effort could take more money and manpower, according to the report by Santa Paula Police Chief Steve MacKinnon. The Council has recently asked about expanding and/or enhancing current efforts to rid the city of graffiti, which brings blight to building and structures and a sense of unease to residents and visitors.According to Chief MacKinnon’s report, graffiti is “not unique to Santa Paula. It is a regional and national program,” and the Council and SPPD have “long recognized an important ingredient in addressing this problem is the quick removal of graffiti to not allow the sense these vandals have ‘taken over’ the town.”Scott McKeen, the city’s full-time Graffiti Abatement officer, hits the streets in the early morning hours to remove graffiti “as quickly as it is located,” using either a high-pressure washer, painting over, or other measures to remove the vandalism. In addition, McKeen - who is on call weekends and holidays to remove significant amounts of tagging - logs each incident, typically up to 20 a day, and often photographs same for SPPD investigators.
The city has met “limited success” in prevention and enforcement, with most arrests stemming from citizen reports or SPPD officers catching vandals in the act. Perhaps most startling in Chief MacKinnon’s report is that there is a “significant reluctance” on the part of citizens to report such incidents as they occur.“The abatement officer reports he regularly speaks to citizens while he is removing graffiti that report they either heard or saw the vandalism taking place, but chose not to call,” with reasons ranging from “fear of retribution to not wanting to get involved” to not being able to explain their lack of action. “It should be noted,” Chief MacKinnon writes, “that the vast majority of graffiti incidents are not gang-related, but are typically related to ‘tagging crews’ or individuals seeking recognition for this criminal effort.”The community, although reluctant to report graffiti as it happens, is supportive through donations to the Abatement Fund, which pays for paint and other supplies.Possible program options cited by Chief MacKinnon’s report include renting - and the possible future purchase - of buffing machinery to remove glass etchings, consideration of permanently mounted closed circuit surveillance cameras in areas such as the downtown, addition of a staff member who would share duties with the Community Services Department and fill in for the abatement officer, and sensitive motion and/or sound sensors at suspected graffiti sites that would alert the SPPD that an incident was taking place.Chief MacKinnon’s report also notes that the SPPD is working with City Attorney Karl Berger to eventually provide sufficient documentation to address the ongoing tagging of three Main Street billboards. The documentation could include code enforcement or the removal of what have been proven to be graffiti magnets.

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