Victoria citizens asked to pick up a paintbrush

Supplies provided by city for graffiti removal; hefty fines in store for offenders

Victoria Coun. Shellie Gudgeon paints over graffiti on a telephone pole at the corner of Bridge and Bay Streets. Covering over graffiti shouldn’t be the responsibility of the city

People have come to know that the ‘Three Rs’ stand for a call to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.

There’s now a second meaning ascribed to the expression. Conscientious citizens are now being asked to Record, Report and Remove when they run into graffiti.

It involves taking a picture, grabbing a paint brush and informing police.

“We’re empowering residents to adopt a pole or a block or a section of the city where they are going to paint out all the power poles, so they remove all the graffiti,” said Darb Erickson, Victoria’s downtown programs liaison.

“It needs to be addressed with community effort. We can’t just expect the city is going to go pay for all of it, whether it’s on public or private property.

“And we can’t expect necessarily that utilities companies will be as responsive as we want them to be.”

It’s part of a program called Together Against Graffiti, which Victoria adopted in 2011 after seeing it work in Esquimalt.

“It’s about volunteers (making) a statement that they’re not going to stand for graffiti vandalism in their areas,” Erickson said.

Over the past few months, he’s co-ordinated power-pole painting events in eight communities, but anyone interested in covering over graffiti can simply call the city to have all the supplies delivered at any time.

So far, the program has 35 volunteers. About a half dozen have made graffiti removal a personal mission that extends well beyond their immediate vicinity.

Coun. Shellie Gudgeon is one. She can often be seen walking with a can of paint at the ready.

“A neighbourhood has to be vigilant,” she said, fresh from covering tags along Bay Street.

Long before pole-painting parties became a recognized, sanctioned event, she organized unofficial graffiti-painting events in Quadra Village.

She calls the results “phenomenal.”

“We’re winning in Quadra Village,” she said.

When a graffiti tag shows up, it’s critical to remove it right away because taggers seek recognition, Gudgeon said.

Twice, she and her husband discovered a graffiti tag scrawled across the entire wall of their business. In both instances, they painted over it by 9 a.m., undoing hours of work by a tagger before many people got the chance to see it.

“It’s discouraging (for the taggers),” she said.

The Victoria Police Department is also encouraging people to report graffiti by making it easier to do, through its new ‘Report a Crime Online’ tool.

“We need the awareness,” said Const. Chantel Ziegler, who has been appointed to the graffiti file.

Back in 2008, Ziegler noticed the Victoria police didn’t distinguish instances of graffiti from other types of mischief. At her request, the police’s database was refined so the department could track incidents of tagging.

By tracking it, she aims to distinguish prolific taggers from novices. Eventually, she hopes this body of evidence will be accepted by the courts when a person caught in the act of tagging is tried.

To build a strong case, however, Ziegler said she needs more people to report graffiti by contacting the police by telephone or Internet.

A lot of people didn’t think it was a crime, she said. “I don’t think there is a call too small if you are offended by it.”

rholmen@vicnews.com

Attacking graffiti on all fronts

As well as encouraging residents to paint over graffiti, the city is ramping up its efforts in a number of other ways:

•  Enforcement: apprehended vandals will now receive a $750 municipal bylaw ticket. In the past, the city had the power to issue these tickets, but did not have a policy for doing so. On average, between six and 12 graffiti vandals are caught each year.

•  Awareness campaign: The city is giving presentations in various venues to highlight the seriousness of the problem. If graffiti is left, it can lead to other forms of delinquency in the area, research shows.

•  Support businesses: the city co-ordinates a significant discount on paint for businesses wanting to paint over graffiti.

•  Networking: the Capital Region Law Enforcement Anti-Graffiti Network was launched to help Greater Victoria’s 13 municipalities work together on graffiti

Options for reporting graffiti

• To learn more about VTAG or get involved, email derickson@victoria.ca

• If you find graffiti on City of Victoria property, you can call 250-361-0466.

• If you find graffiti on private property (not your own), you can call bylaw services: 250-361-0215.

• In all cases of graffiti, you can report it to Victoria police at 250-995-7654, or www.vicpd.ca