Graffiti Wipe Out a Great Success!

I am so pleased to report that Dallas’ first-ever citywide Graffiti Wipe Out on May 20 was a great success! The event exceeded our expectations, with more than 680 volunteers cleaning up more than 200 vandalized sites across the city, and more than 37,000 square feet of graffiti.

Since last fall I’ve been working to create a comprehensive graffiti program for Dallas. Unlike cities like Phoenix and Fort Worth, which spend respectively $1.2 million and $.5 million every year to clean up graffiti, Dallas spends next to nothing. We also don’t have a coordinated effort to attack this problem, which not only makes our city look dirty, but increases crime and reduces property values.

Last fall I pulled together various city departments to look at ways to attack this problem — code, police, legal and environmental — and we investigated other cities best practices. I also sought advice from community leaders who have done an incredible job organizing neighborhood clean-ups: Jeff Bryan, Bill Peterson, Sandy Graham and Danny Chandler. Since January, we’ve been meeting every other week for a couple of hours, then starting in March, every week, to plan.

Because the city couldn’t afford to suddenly undertake a $1.2 million graffiti program like Phoenix, we decided to try to break it out into phases. Our first phase was finding a community partner that would help us raise funds for equipment and help us organize a citywide graffiti cleanup effort to raise awareness and get people energized about the project. The Leadership Dallas class of 2006 stepped up to the plate, and was remarkable in their dedication, raising more than $100,000 in donations and inkind contributions. Now we have two well-equipped trucks with camper locks for city employees to use in abating graffiti, as well as supplies from Sherwin Williams.

Next, we looked at ways we could improve our city ordinances. We examined laws from other cities that had successfully addressed graffiti, and earlier this month we adopted an ordinance that makes carrying graffiti implements (spray paint, fat markers, glass cutters) a misdemeanor with a fine up to $500. Graffiti vandals are great at not getting caught, and this puts one more tool in the hands of our police officers. We then organized the Graffiti Wipe Out Day held May 20.

During the Wipe Out, I caught a vandal red-handed as he defaced a wall that one of our teams had just cleaned up in Deep Ellum. Police arrested him, and he was charged with vandalism. The Wipe Out was a great event, and I want to thank State Representative Rafael Anchia, DISD board member Adam Medrano, and Councilmembers Medrano, Griffith and Koop for participating.

But this is only the beginning of our efforts to clean up our city and make it safer. Our next step is two-fold. First, develop an infrastructure and process in our city to effectively help clean up graffiti on private property like we did with the Wipe Out. Phoenix is largely graffiti- free, and they have city employees that clean up graffiti on private property. Second, tighten our graffiti clean-up rules. Some property owners never clean up their property, and graffiti begets more graffiti. On the other hand, if graffiti is cleaned up within 24 to 48 hours, it almost never returns. We must get property owners to clean up their property, and develop a system to help them do so.

Thanks again to everyone who participated. I hope to do a citywide event again next year, and hope you’ll join us.