Equipped with graffiti removal wipes, a power washer and cans of paint, Gord Beauvillier follows a fresh trail of spray painted tags on bus shelters, utility poles and mailboxes.
The Colwood parks foreman stops to remove a series of overlapping and crossed out signatures where the taggers battled for territory on a black-and-yellow checkered traffic sign. He’s cleaned the same sign about 20 times.
“It’s an endless battle,” Beauvillier said. “You can go through an area and clean everything up, and the next day a they’re back.”
There are more tags on Colwood’s residential streets than downtown Victoria. A recent count turned up over 1,000 spray paint markings, and Beauvillier says it’s the worst he’s seen it in his five years on the job. The City has started ordering all its signs with a graffiti resistant coating and increasing pole hight from eight feet to 10. But that doesn’t stop the vandals.
“They’re tagging the concrete now, on the streets and sidewalks, and our white speed bumps,” he said.
Now Colwood is considering a different approach with a graffiti outreach pilot project in to cut the problem off at the source by prosecuting the people responsible for the tags, just as Langford did in 2008.
Back then Phil Williams was one of the two community safety officers who patrolled Langford by mountain bike, documenting graffiti and educating people about its negative effects. He helped catch two prolific taggers before being unceremoniously laid off in May 2010.
Now an auxiliary bylaw officer in Colwood, Williams is sharing his expertise with the City as it looks to relieve the spray paint problem that has already run up a $8,000 to bill this year for cleanup on municipal property alone, never mind the cost to private homes and businesses that get hit.
“The taggers are addicted to the thrill of doing it. It’s a small group of people who cause a whole lot of damage,” Williams said. “If you can catch one or two, it sends the message to others that they can’t get away with that here.”
While taggers are occasionally caught by police and slapped with a $325 fine for mischief, the municipality can hold the offender responsible for damages.
Colwood recently started building its case for the day it catches a tagger. Before graffiti is removed, bylaw officers now photograph and catalogue it along with others by the same vandal, and the parks staff track the time they spend cleaning it up.
“If we catch someone who says, ‘I’ve only done this one tag,’ we’ll have the record to show otherwise,” enforcement officer Kevin Atkinson said.
But both Atkinson and Beauvillier say adding graffiti abatement to their already busy workload isn’t realistic without cutting back services elsewhere. To really get a hold on graffiti somebody needs to be working on it full time, which could happen if the pilot project goes ahead.
Councillors unanimously supported a project to curb graffiti in principal, but they’re waiting to get a business report from staff in September with the projected cost of various measures before they can approve it for the cash-strapped municipality.
“This is something i think residents would support us investing significant resources in. Graffiti has a negative impact on everyone,” coun. Ernie Robertson said. “It’s not art, it’s destroying a community.”
Enforcement officers encourage residents to report graffiti as soon as they see it, to help create a timeline of when taggers are visiting a specific area and to get it on the list for removal. Emailing photos of the tag is also helpful.
The Colwood bylaw department can be reached at 250-478-5999 or firstname.lastname@example.org.