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2/15/2009
Councilman Bob Weiner's Anti-graffiti Citizens Brigade partners with DE State Police & Transportation Dept to tackle graffiti - News Journal

To help erase the damage, New Castle County Councilman Bob Weiner organized the Citizen Anti-Graffiti Brigade that DelDOT has come to rely on.

Created in fall 2007, the group of citizen volunteers regularly tackles graffiti in Brandywine Hundred and the Greenville area, using supplies donated by the state and paint companies to cover up graffiti almost as soon as it appears.

Before getting down to work, the volunteers -- who focus on underpasses beneath I-95, such as Darley Road, Shipley Road and Del. 141 in Greenville -- take photographs of vandalized sites so police can put the wall writers' monikers in a database to help solve the crimes.

With the county's budget crunch, it's more important than ever for citizens to come forward and help, Weiner said. "We're winning the battle against graffiti vandals," he said. "We're sending a message to the criminal that we are on guard."

 

Graffiti wars
Police fight back as battles between taggers get ugly

BY TERRI SANGINITI • THE NEWS JOURNAL • FEBRUARY 15, 2009

Call it the ugly ride along I-95.

Motorists crossing into northern New Castle County from Pennsylvania are greeted with an array of graffiti on signs, storage units and overpasses all the way into Maryland.

They see it on:
• A picket fence just south of the Naamans Road exit.
• The rear of the Delaware Department of Transportation's new storage facility near Concord Pike.
• An overhead sign on the Brandywine River Bridge.
• The newly built Churchmans Road Bridge -- north- and southbound.
• Commercial buildings that line the interstate into Maryland.

In addition to being unsightly, graffiti is costly to remove and creates the impression among passers-by that the area has entered a "downward spiral," officials said.

"It is a property crime, but it's also a crime against private citizens," said state police Cpl. Jeff Whitmarsh.
The cost of cleaning up graffiti in Delaware hits "hundreds of thousands of dollars -- on the low end" each year, state highway officials say.

"What's really troubling is that cleaning up this graffiti is costing materials and manpower at a time when we're limiting litter pickup and grass cutting," said Darrell Cole of the state Department of Transportation.
While the recent spring-like weather lured more taggers out of their lairs, property in Delaware gets vandalized every day, said Misty Seemans, a DelDOT spokeswoman.

"The same people who are cleaning it up are the same workers replacing lights, filling potholes, fixing guardrails and replacing storm grates," she said.
" ... We certainly do not consider graffiti an art at DelDOT."
Taggers take the opposite view and are willing to risk jail time -- even felony charges carrying a maximum two years in prison -- to put on public displays, police say.

"With their tag, they think they are making Delaware beautiful," said New Castle County Detective LaVincent Harris, who has arrested taggers. "It's art to them and law enforcement is just an oppressor."

They also believe that getting arrested gives them prestige among their peers, he said. "They will never stop. That's part of their personality."
Since summer, three graffiti bands -- the Fast Hands Crew, the Hunters Run Crew and Silent Urban Destruction -- have been going head-to-head, waging their visual war in public, Harris said.

"How do you win a war? You win a graffiti war by using your tag," Harris said. "Your tag is your soldier, and the more soldiers you have up in a particular area, in the most obnoxious and difficult places, helps you to win the war."

Taggers also communicate on Internet sites such as Bombing Science and YouTube, where they chat in forums and compare their work.
One 17-year-old recently dressed in dark clothing and climbed on the overhead signage on I-95 over the Brandywine River Bridge in the middle of the night -- a time when serious graffiti writers go out -- and scrawled his tag CEVEN on the underside of the sign.

"He's doing it in a place where he should be seen doing it," Whitmarsh said. "Here's the thing about graffiti, unless these parents are staying in the house, they're seeing their kids' vandalism out in public."

Taggers also have hit the Wooddale Covered Bridge in Greenville three times since it reopened in December following a $3.4 million restoration, and defaced the Ashland Covered Bridge on Barley Mill Road in Yorklyn, rebuilt between December 2007 and May 2008, Seemans said.

"The bridge is brand-new and they like to graffiti the parts of the bridge that we don't paint due to historical reasons," she said.
Kent and Sussex counties have not been as seriously affected, police say.

"We do have graffiti incidents, but I would not categorize it as a problem," said Sgt. Joshua Bushweller of the state police Dover headquarters.

Volunteers clean up

To help erase the damage, New Castle County Councilman Bob Weiner organized the Citizen Anti-Graffiti Brigade that DelDOT has come to rely on.
Created in fall 2007, the group of citizen volunteers regularly tackles graffiti in Brandywine Hundred and the Greenville area, using supplies donated by the state and paint companies to cover up graffiti almost as soon as it appears.

Before getting down to work, the volunteers -- who focus on underpasses beneath I-95, such as Darley Road, Shipley Road and Del. 141 in Greenville -- take photographs of vandalized sites so police can put the wall writers' monikers in a database to help solve the crimes.

With the county's budget crunch, it's more important than ever for citizens to come forward and help, Weiner said. "We're winning the battle against graffiti vandals," he said. "We're sending a message to the criminal that we are on guard."

The group took advantage of Tuesday's mild weather to paint over graffiti on the I-95 underpass at Silverside Road and at the Wooddale Covered Bridge.
"The key to our success has been that we acted swiftly," Weiner said. "It's been proven that the faster you clean it up, the harder it is to be painted over. It removes the visual clutter that desecrates a community and lessens property values."

According to a U.S. Department of Justice report, graffiti is often perceived by residents and passers-by as a sign that a downward spiral has begun in a neighborhood, even though that may not be true.

"Graffiti contributes to lost revenue associated with reduced ridership on transit systems, reduced retail sales, and declines in property value," the report said. "In addition, graffiti generates the perception of blight and heightens fear of gang activity."

Bill Thatcher, DelDOT's maintenance manager for northern New Castle County, said another problem is that people generally don't report graffiti when it's being painted.

While driving on highways at night, few motorists pay attention to what's happening in the dark under a highway underpass, Harris said.
"They are letting all the other graffiti writers that come through Delaware know how good they are," Harris said.

One of the challenges to stopping the graffiti is getting the message out to the taggers that they will be arrested and charged with a crime, said Whitmarsh, the state police spokesman.

"These criminal charges will go on their records and could impact them in many different ways in the future, such as when they go to seek employment or participate in other activities that require a background check," he said. "Simply put, if you are caught, you're going to be held accountable."

Tougher law

Last year, Delaware beefed up its law by increasing the penalties for painting graffiti and possessing the tools needed to draw it. The tougher penalties raise the misdemeanor offense to a felony if the property damage exceeds $1,500. It also carries a minimum fine of $500, restitution for property damage and 200 hours of community service -- at least half of them spent removing graffiti from public property.

If convicted of the felony offense, a tagger could get up to two years in prison.

But the problem can't be solved by law enforcement alone, police say.

The real solution lies in the public getting involved and reporting incidents as they happen, Whitmarsh said.

Parents also should look for signs that their kids may be tagging.

These include finding spray cans at home, paint on clothing, hands and fingernails, nozzles snapped off spray cans, and notebooks scrawled with graffiti designs, Whitmarsh said.

When a 17-year-old Greenville boy who lives on North Buck Ridge Road in Barley Mill was arrested again last week for a graffiti spree dating back to August, detectives recovered sketchbooks, photographs, canvas board paintings, cameras and laptop computers, all with the tags CANE, BARON, CEVEN and BECCA, according to court records.

The teen also was arrested in December for defacing a heating and air-conditioning unit over the summer at the Hagley Museum near Greenville.

He was released to his parents' custody in lieu of $11,000 unsecured bail on one count of misdemeanor graffiti, six counts of felony graffiti and four counts of criminal trespassing. He faces a court hearing on Feb. 24.

Police said the teen had a double skateboard ramp set up in the basement of his home that was covered in graffiti.

The graffiti seen in Delaware crosses all ethnic groups and neighborhoods, and is a little different from the original art of hip-hop, said Harris, the New Castle County detective.

"It's not just some black kid in Brooklyn doing it," he said. "Now, it's the white kid who likes skateboarding in Hockessin. You can have a kid who lives around the corner from the vice president of the United States and a kid, like me, who grew up in Queens, N.Y. I can appreciate good artwork, but not when it causes quality-of-life issues."

Contact Terri Sanginiti at 324-2771 or tsanginiti@delawareonline.com.

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"Iíd like to express my appreciation to Councilman Bob Weiner who exhibits strength, determination and fortitude and is always on the side of the people. I followed Bobís actions when he was head of CCOBH's zoning committee and made strong efforts to try to stop the Brandywine Town Center construction. He has continued with energy and zeal in many pivotal positions in spite of enduring a lot of negative professional and personal attacks. I appreciate that he is never deterred."

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