Under Oregon law, graffiti means "any inscriptions, words, figures or designs that are marked, etched, scratched, drawn, painted, pasted or otherwise affixed to the surface of the property." In Washington County we see graffiti applied to everything from fences and buildings to school desks and notebooks.
A distinction can be made between property damage by gangs and that of "taggers". Gang-related graffiti is used by gang members to mark their territory, list members, or send warnings to rival gangs. Tagging is damage that is not gang-related and it includes more random markings, initials, and various social commentary.
How Does Graffiti Hurt Washington County?
Graffiti, whether gang-related or not, has a negative effect on a resident's feeling of safety in their neighborhood. It creates a perception (whether factual or not) that crime is on the rise and gangs are moving into the area.
When graffiti appears and is left up indefinitely, it sends a signal that people just don't care, which in turn attracts other forms of crime and delinquency to the neighborhood.
Graffiti drains tax dollars. Funds that could and should be used for schools, roads, parks, and other community needs, are used to clean graffiti.
What is the Cost of Cleaning Up Graffiti?
Figures vary by community but according to one study, graffiti cleanup costs the average U. S. taxpayer anywhere from $3 to $5 dollars per year. The latest figures from nearby Portland, Oregon indicate they spend approximately $2 million dollars per year to clean up graffiti in their city.
What Should I do About Graffiti in my Neighborhood?
Report Graffiti—Your local law enforcement agency is very interested in documenting graffiti as a means to track criminal activity, including gangs, in Washington County. Your report may help prevent more serious crimes!
When Graffiti Is "Occurring Now"—If you are a witness to graffiti vandalism as it is happening, call 9-1-1. Give as much information as you can about the suspects and the location.
When Graffiti appears on your property or someone else's—If you see that graffiti has been put up in the neighborhood, report it to your local law enforcement agency as soon as possible by calling the non-emergency dispatch number at (503) 629-0111. This allows police officers or deputies that serve your area to document the writing and refer it to the Interagency Gang Enforcement Team for evaluation and intelligence gathering purposes.
In Any Case—The Sooner Graffiti Is Removed, The Better! Research shows that removal within 24-48 hours is effective in discouraging repeat vandalism. If you choose to remove the graffiti before contacting law enforcement, take a photo, if possible, that can be given to the officer/deputy and attached to the report. If the graffiti appears on someone else's property and you believe they may be unaware, consider contacting them directly. You will be acting as a "good neighbor" by letting them know and also making sure they understand the importance of quick removal.
How Do I Remove Graffiti?
The most common ways of removing graffiti are sanding or scraping it off, painting over it, or removal with solvents. The method selected will depend on the type of surface and the substance to be removed. For a comprehensive, easy to follow guide to graffiti removal, we recommend the website GraffitiHurts.
(Graffiti Hurts is a non-profit, community-based graffiti prevention program established by Keep America Beautiful, Inc. and the Sherwin-Williams Company.) For a printed copy of this guide, contact the Washington County Sheriff's Office Crime Prevention Unit at (503) 846-2773.
In Hillsboro, report the graffiti first by calling non-emergency dispatch at (503) 629-0111. Thanks to the Hillsboro Sherwin-Williams Store and the Hillsboro Police Graffiti Removal Program, any citizen can obtain a 20% discount on paint and supplies for graffiti clean-up by mentioning the program. The store is located at 348 SE 10th Avenue in Hillsboro.
What if I am Physically or Financially Unable to Remove Graffiti Myself?
If you live in the city limits of:
Beaverton—contact the City Operations Division at (503) 526-2206.
Hillsboro—contact the Hillsboro Police Graffiti Removal Program at (503) 615-6639.
If you live in other areas of Washington County, you may contact the Washington County Sheriff's Office Graffiti Eradication Program at (503) 846-2451.
How Can Our Community Prevent Graffiti?
Most effective graffiti prevention efforts involve a combination of community education and citizen involvement, efficient removal methods, laws and ordinances that are strictly enforced, and a commitment to engage at-risk youth in positive activities within the community.
Get educated. In turn, you can help educate others about the importance of reporting and cleaning up graffiti.
Adopt a spot in your neighborhood and ensure it stays clean and free of graffiti.
Become a volunteer with an established graffiti clean-up program in your local community. In Hillsboro, contact the Hillsboro Police Department volunteer coordinator at (503) 681-6474.
Organize a mural project to cover a wall that is an ongoing target for graffiti. These types of community murals are less likely to be defaced by graffiti and instill a sense of local pride among young and old alike.
Find ways to encourage and engage at-risk youth in positive activities. Consider becoming a coach, youth leader, school volunteer, or mentor through various community organizations in your area. Boys and Girls Club, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and Start Making a Reader Today (SMART) are just a few examples of organizations that are helping local youth and are always looking for caring volunteers.
Utilize the Practice Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) strategy. This strategy is used by architects, city planners, law enforcement, and others in order to use the physical environment to reduce the incidence and fear of crime, including graffiti. CPTED includes four main elements:
Territoriality—Use of fences, signs, landscaping, and good maintenance to convey ownership of the property.
Natural Surveillance—Purposeful placement of physical features and activities that maximize the ability of people in the area to see what is going on around them.
Activity Support—Positive, legitimate activities are encouraged in public spaces, thereby discouraging criminal activity.
Access Control—Proper placement of entrances, exits, fencing, landscaping, and lighting to discourage criminal activity.
Join a Neighborhood Watch Program. Contact your local law enforcement agency for information about existing Neighborhood Watch groups in your area or for help in starting a new one. Neighborhood Watch helps to strengthen communities by encouraging residents to look out for one another and to work closely with law enforcement to address crime and livability issues in their area.
How Can the Business Community Help?
Since businesses are a vital part of the community they can follow all of the above guidelines to discourage and remove graffiti from their property. For more information from Graffiti Hurts that is specifically focused on businesses, go to:
Merchants can also respond to the graffiti problem by making it harder to get the paint or markers used by taggers. By making these products less accessible, retailers can make a big impact. Options to businesses include relocating spray paint displays, placing spray paint in locked cabinets, and restricting sales to minors. The National Council to Prevent Delinquency has designed an Anti-Graffiti Project whose primary goal is to prevent the illegal or harmful misuse of legitimate consumer products, especially by young people.
More about Graffiti Hurts Washington County
Graffiti Hurts Washington County is a public information campaign about the harm that graffiti poses to the greater Washington County community. This campaign was formulated through the collaboration of many allied agencies and community partners who have joined together in a county-wide approach to the graffiti problem. Our goal is to educate the public about graffiti and the importance of reporting it to law enforcement. Graffiti Hurts Washington County also emphasizes the importance of prompt graffiti removal to discourage ongoing acts of vandalism and related gang activity. Helpful information about graffiti eradication and restoration is included to assist citizens in their clean-up efforts. We acknowledge the generous support of Keep America Beautiful, Inc. and their national Graffiti Hurts community education campaign. You may also visit their website at www.graffitihurts.org.