Bylaw officer Phil Williams is making a dent in extensive graffiti vandalism seen last year in Colwood.

Bylaw officer Phil Williams is making a dent in extensive graffiti vandalism seen last year in Colwood.

Cleaning up Colwood

To Phil Williams, graffiti tags might as well be photo ID.

City bylaw officer puts pressure on graffiti taggers

To Phil Williams, graffiti tags might as well be photo ID.

Under the Six Mile bridge, he sees evidence of one tagger who is under investigation, and a spray-painted mark of another young man well known to Victoria police. A third larger piece has the signature of a graffiti artist who Williams knows moved to Saskatchewan.

“I see familiar tags all the time,” said Williams, a Colwood bylaw officer. “This place is out of my jurisdiction, but it’s great to gather intelligence.”

While technically in View Royal, Williams photographs new graffiti under the bridge for his growing database of tags, built up over the last four months. He’s a man on a mission to quash graffiti and tagging in Colwood.

Colwood launched a concerted anti-graffiti program in October in the wake of extensive tagging on signs and buildings throughout the community last year. The City hired Williams, an anti-graffiti guru and former Langford bylaw officer who helped that city build unprecedented civil lawsuits against two graffiti vandals.

In Colwood to date, Williams has identified seven taggers, three of whom have painted over 56 tags as part of community service. All are young men, either in their teens or early 20s.

He has photographed and cataloged 376 tags, the majority of which are now painted over. Two taggers are paying $571 to public works for cleanup costs, and bylaw officers have issued 12 municipal tickets for vandalism. Parents of one tagger even surrendered 68 cans of spray paint.

“The program is working and we’ve made huge strides,” said Colwood bylaw enforcement manager Kevin Atkinson. “We’ve picked the right person to do the job, and the city is looking better for it.”

Colwood pays Williams’ part-time salary, but the majority of the anti-graffiti program is funded through donations from local businesses. Rona gave $460 worth of paint for a community “paint out” in November, and Thriftys, London Drugs and Best Buy have also donated to the cause. The City is working with BC Hydro and Canada Post on graffiti removal funding agreements.

“Corporate citizens have stepped up in a huge way with no questions asked. They ask, ‘how can we help?’,” Atkinson said. “They’re getting value for their money.”

On the ground, Williams often works “undercover” in plain clothes, monitoring common tagging areas, and passing on locations of new tags to City staff. Colwood public works has standing orders to paint over new tags within 24 hours.

“Taggers want to be noticed. If they tag the same spot you have to clean it right away. Persistence pays off,” Williams said.

“Several of the most prolific taggers have been caught, but a new generation is coming up so its important to keep up the momentum.”

The officers think the rate of tagging in the city is falling, but they won’t really know until after the winter. They doubt the city will ever be 100 per cent free of graffiti tags. “It’s not about graffiti elimination,” Williams said. “it’s about managing it, keeping it to a minimum.”

Some communities have a “freewall” for graffiti artists to paint, but those projects, while admirable, usually promote “bleed out” into surrounding neighbourhoods, the officers say. The skate park in Langford is a prime example.

“There is huge bleed out into (Langford),” Williams said. “There’s many tags on (Belmont) school grounds and local businesses.”

Colwood bylaw officers network with anti-graffiti officers in other municipalities, such as Langford and Victoria, in an effort not to just push the problem into another community. One partnership with West Shore RCMP community policing section could play a key role in future anti-graffiti efforts.

Community policing staff have agreed to input Colwood municipal ticket convictions linked to graffiti into the PRIME database, the primary offender database for police in B.C.

That effort “is in its infancy,” Williams said, but as it grows, police and courts across the region will be able to see municipal tickets issued to taggers, not just the rarer criminal convictions. “If someone gets a ticket for graffiti, now the police are notified,” Williams said. On Colwood’s end, it is bumping up vandalism fines to $500 from $100.

The $20,000 anti-graffiti program is considered a six-month pilot project and Colwood council will need to decide in April if it will be funded again. Last year, the first six months of cleaning up tags cost the City about $10,000.

Williams and Atkinson told the protective services committee that businesses are willing to donate paint and equipment, but without certainty of continuing, it’s difficult to get commitments.

“I’m in a bit of a catch-22,” Williams said. “A lot of donations have come in, and a lot of sponsors are interested, but it’s hard for them to commit if they don’t know if the program will continue or not.”

The driving force behind the anti-graffiti effort is to make the city look clean, polished, and unthreatening. Atkinson said its hard to directly measure the benefits of graffiti abatement, but he argues council and the community are getting their money’s worth.

“There is a lot of intangible things behind this. Graffiti can give the perception an area is not safe, it deters business,” Atkinson said. “The West Shore is a place we want people to live and work, and tagging is a deterrent.”


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Central Saanich Police impounded two vehicles in less than hours for excessive spending Monday evening and Tuesday morning, handing out $1,185 and 15 points in total fines during some nine hours. Both incidents happened at intersection of Highway 17 and Island View Road. (Central Saanich Police/Twitter)
Central Saanich police hand out almost $1,200 in excessive spending fines

One driver received 12, the other driver three points

Tourists are being asked to postpone their non-essential trips to Tofino as COVID-19 cases rise across Vancouver Island, but at least one accommodation provider is offering conflicting messaging. (Westerly file photo)
Victoria woman says Tofino Airbnb host encouraged travel despite provincial restrictions

“The only way I would get a refund is if she would be able to rebook the suite for that weekend.”

A Victoria-based orthopedic surgeon has been reprimanded after using sexualized language during a surgical consult with a pre-teen patient. (Pixabay)
Victoria doctor fined and reprimanded for calling pre-teen patient a ‘loose woman’

Dr. Bruce Taro Yoneda admitted to using sexualized language in surgical consult

Victoria police are asking for the public’s help locating Alexander Stokes, 19. (Courtesy of VicPD)
Victoria police searching for missing teen

Police looking to ensure safety of Alexander Stokes, 19

Capital Regional District Animal Control say an eight-month-old Rottweiler bit a Langford mother and her child near Glen Lake on Nov. 19. (Black Press Media file photo)
Large dog attacks mother and child in Langford

Mother puts three-year-old on top of car to protect him

People wearing face masks to help curb the spread of COVID-19 cross a street in downtown Vancouver, on Sunday, November 22, 2020. The use of masks is mandatory in indoor public and retail spaces in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. reports 17 COVID deaths, 1,933 new cases as hospitalizations surge over the weekend

There are 277 people in hospital, of whom 59 are in ICU or critical care

All dance studios, other indoor group fitness facilities must close amid updated COVID-19 rules

Prior announcement had said everything except spin, HIIT and hot yoga could remain open

B.C. Liberal interim leader Shirley Bond speaks to reporters from Prince George via Zoom conference, Nov. 24, 2020. MLAs are being sworn in for the legislature session this week, many of them also by video. (B.C. legislature)
B.C. Liberal leadership contest will wait for election post-mortem

Interim leader set to face NDP on payments for COVID-19

Product Care offers more than <a href="" target="_blank">150 free drop-off locations</a> in B.C. (
Recycling broken or burnt string lights can reduce holiday landfill waste

In 2019, Product Care Recycling diverted more than 11.6 million light bulbs from landfills

Helen Watson, posing for a photo for her 100th birthday, turned 105 on Saturday (Nov. 21). (File photo)
B.C. woman who survived Spanish Flu turns 105

Helen Watson has packed a lot into life – including being in two pandemics

(Black Press Media files)
B.C. to test emergency alert system on cell phones, TVs, radios on Wednesday

The alert is part of a twice yearly test of the national Alert Ready system

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speak to the media about the COVID-19 virus outside Rideau Cottage in Ottawa, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s inability to manufacture vaccines in-house will delay distribution: Trudeau

First doses of COVID-19 vaccine expected in first few months of 2021, prime minister says

Phillip Tallio was just 17 when he was convicted of murder in 1983 (file photo)
Miscarriage of justice before B.C. teen’s 1983 guilty plea in girl’s murder: lawyer

Tallio was 17 when he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the death of his 22-month-old cousin

Most Read