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The Need to Add Prevention to an Already Existing Graffiti Control Program

Updated: Feb 28, 2019

By Linda Sheridan, 2019.01.16

As the City re-evaluates its budget and programming to eradicate graffiti vandalism, it needs to consider prevention, the missing element from its Graffiti Control Program. San Diego’s present endeavors are to document, paint, punish. We are spending $400,000 a year to document and identify taggers so we can successfully charge youth in the court system. We spend anywhere from $800,000 to $1.6 million a year to paint it out and we spend approximately $77 million a year incarcerating youth in which 75% re-offend. This does not include court costs, probation costs and the cost of law enforcement. Because graffiti vandalism has a cumulative effect it attracts more vandalism. These control methods, although absolutely necessary, are like sweeping out the garage during a continual windstorm. They are not enough. This problem is more than the marks on the wall.

The public costs of graffiti vandalism are substantial. Everyone pays to clean it up: real estate suffers a loss in property value; residents fear of crime and gang activity increases; revenue is lost from reduced ridership on transit systems; retail sales fall; and the offending youth and their families are charged with restitution and time in the justice system. We pay millions of dollars in these efforts and to what success? According to the City’s audit on the Graffiti Control Program, what we are doing isn’t working and isn’t efficient. The San Diego Auditor’s report stated in March 2014, that San Diego County’s Graffiti Abatement Program needed “significant program revisions,” and that it “lacks a comprehensive approach necessary to achieve graffiti control program.” The audit report even declared that the current graffiti abatement program “is a waste of resources.” The investigation found limited outreach efforts and a lack of coordination among community groups involved in graffiti control. Paint, document and punish is not enough.

Einstein is often attributed as saying, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”

Our public sector needs to shift its attention from modest goals that provide short-term relief to bold goals that, while harder to achieve, provide long-term solutions by tackling the root of social problems.

There is a project in San Diego that exists and is solely constructed based on prevention, The San Diego Cultural Arts Alliance’s “Graffiti Education & Mural Arts Program.” This program has been developed in partnership with the San Diego Police Department, the Probation Department, the San Diego Unified School District and the District Attorney’s Office. It has been constructed using the best practices of other cities that have found successful solutions to the growing problem of graffiti vandalism. Such programs have reduced recidivism from 65% to 10% and have a 100% high school graduation rate for the youth that go through the program. We should want the same for San Diego.

SDCAA’s program begins with education. Not only educating the youth but also the agencies charged with these youth and the communities that fear them. Education is vital to foster in children a respect for the community and the property of others. Beginning at the cause and listening to the youth that are engaged in these activities, one soon learns that they do not comprehend that their activities cause anyone any harm. We must educate and inform them before we put them in the pipeline of prison. If we only use oppression to enforce and correct these behaviors, we only breed the power to oppose it.

The Graffiti Education & Mural Arts Program will eventually clean the City of its costly graffiti vandalism, as well as offer opportunities to youth to learn and use their abilities in a way that will serve themselves and the communities they call home. This program deserves the serious consideration of the City and County to partnership in this endeavor as part of the Graffiti Control Program.

The Missing Element:


San Diego Cultural Arts Alliance Graffiti Education & Mural Arts Program©

Graffiti Hurts© & Arts Education

The Alliance has developed a curriculum in partnership with San Diego City Police, The Probation Department, The District Attorney’s Office, and the San Diego Unified School District to develop a comprehensive curriculum that enables us to run 8-week classes for youth tailored to and covering Prevention, Intervention and Diversion. These classes are taught in the San Diego Unified School District, ALBA School and Diversionary classes under the supervision of the Probation Department.

The instruction is designed to start at the cause youth have to vandalize while clearly informing them of the harm it is doing to their communities, their families and their own individual lives. They are clearly instructed in the serious consequences of their actions.

Restorative Justice

Our intention is to incorporate the concepts of restorative justice through art instruction, mural making, and community service work.

Mural Arts Program

Through the mural arts program the youth that have completed our Graffiti Hurts© & Arts Education classes are available to participate on a mural crew where they are continued to be taught, mentored, and given guidance.

The mural arts program is a series of public art and community outreach projects that promote stewardship of the environment. We create art with others to transform places, individuals, communities and institutions. Through this work, we establish new standards of excellence in the practice of public and contemporary art. Our process empowers artists to be change agents, stimulates dialogue about critical issues, and builds bridges of connection and understanding.

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