Tucson Proposes an Increase in Budget to Erase Graffiti

The City of Tucson plans to double its budget for graffiti abatement in 2016 to invest in a program aimed at erasing graffiti as soon as it is reported.

But some Tucson art educators think they have a better idea — give taggers more blank walls to express themselves.

The number of graffiti reports has increased by about 18 percent since 2012, according to a report from the Tucson Department of Transportation. The department manages graffiti abatement through a contract with Graffiti Protective Coatings, a private company that detects graffiti and cleans it up citywide.

The proposed budget shows an increase of $880,000 to the joint contract, which would bring the graffiti abatement budget up to $1,757,680, according to the report. The council is expected to approve the budget on June 9.

Michael Schwartz, executive director of the Tucson Arts Brigade, said the increase in the abatement budget was an impulsive and popular decision and suggested it was politically motivated by the approaching local elections on November 3. The Tucson Arts Brigade creates murals in many Tucson communities as a way to counter graffiti.

Mr. Schwartz said the city wastes money by cleaning the same walls many times over the years.

“We need to increase funding for arts education and murals instead of throwing money to clean up graffiti,” Mr. Schwartz said. He thinks a better solution is to give taggers and would-be artists public places to show their work.

Technology solutions used by the Graffiti Protective Coatings, also known as GPC, in conjunction with the City of Tucson have been very effective, according to the report. The solutions have created a centralized repository that allows the Tucson Police Department to track the identities of taggers in order to elevate the crimes from misdemeanor to felony.

The GPC cleans up all of the graffiti reports it receives within 24 to 48 hours, according to the report. Reports come via the company or the department of transportation en route, by phone, through the City of Tucson website or on the MyTucson app.

Jorge Riveros, a transportation of department officer, said that the company’s technology has allowed for rapid abatement which serves as a deterrence tactic.

He said the tactic is based on the anti-graffiti program led by David Gunn, president of the New York City Transit Authority in the 1980s, and it continued under Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s administration in the 1990s.

“If you can remove graffiti quickly, you could take care of it right away. You don’t give your taggers a canvas,” Mr. Riveros said.

Jacob Robles, a 24-year-old graffiti artist and co-founder of Flowers and Bullets, an organization that intends to have its members be paid for their graffiti skills, disagreed.

He said technology has worked as a double-edged sword for taggers. It has made reporting and eliminating graffiti easier for the city, but it has also permitted taggers to expose their work on social media even when their work is erased shortly after, Mr. Robles said.

Emily Ruddick, a teacher at ACE Charter High School worked with students and graffiti artists to create a mural inside the school.

“It is important for kids to have places where they can go express themselves,” Ms. Ruddick said. “If they are given places where they can go do it that would reduce vandalism graffiti.”

Nito Bravo, a former member of a gang who joined the graffiti crowd in high school, said “there wouldn’t be so much graffiti out there if they actually gave us space to you know, paint.”

But the city is pushing for the opposed alternative. The increase in the budget will permit the department to expand GPC cleanups to private entities that are open to the public eye.

“If it can be seen from the roadway, from the public street, and it is on private property, then we would be able to get a right of entry to get into the property and abate the graffiti,” Mr. Riveros said.