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What Graffiti Means to a Community

The more social disorder and graffiti in a neighborhood, the louder the message is sent that "nobody cares." This sets off a vicious cycle that encourages further crime in affected neighborhoods.

Most vandals are young people, from grade school age to young adults, who damage property for reasons of boredom, anger or revenge. Others vandalize to show defiance toward rules, laws and authority or to draw attention to a "cause." Graffiti is often the first sign that gangs are taking over a neighborhood. Gangs use graffiti as their street "telegraph," sending messages about turf and advertising their exploits. Graffiti identifies territorial boundaries, lists members, and communicates threats to rival gangs.

Each year millions of dollars are spent to clean up graffiti. Communities can adopt a zero tolerance policy for vandalism. The first step is to identify locations or objects prone to graffiti and to teach property owners effective removal methods. Participants should include property owners victimized by graffiti, schools, government, businesses, recreation facilities, public transportation, utilities, public works, and shopping malls among others.

Beautification projects such as trash cleanups, landscape enhancements, and gardens also serve as a focus for community organizing. Community groups working with law enforcement, public works, or parks and recreation staff clean up public areas and abandoned lots. The project may reclaim a public space for neighborhood use, establish new green space, or mark neighborhood boundaries. The Los Angeles Police Department has a number of such projects. For more information, contact your local Los Angeles Police Department Community Relations Office.

A community’s first step in taking back its streets is getting rid of graffiti immediately. This power struggle cannot be won overnight, but persistent communities working in partnership with law enforcement almost always emerge as victors. Once the graffiti is gone, use landscape designs (such as prickly shrubs or closely planted hedges), building materials (such as hard-to-mark surfaces), lighting, or fences to discourage vandalism. This philosophy, known as Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design, can help diminish the possibility of graffiti by changing landscaping, lighting, fencing, etc.

Since 1990, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) in an effort to combat graffiti, implemented the Police Assisted Community Enhancement Program (PACE) which coordinates other City agencies to alleviate adverse conditions affecting the quality of life in neighborhoods citywide. Conditions such as graffiti, abandoned cars, vagrants, accumulative trash, street vendors and abandoned buildings are examples of conditions that cause fear among residents and are a sign that residents have lost control of their neighborhood. If minor problems such as broken windows are left unattended, it could foster serious crimes such as robbery, assault, etc. The PACE program is the method by which these problems are addressed and the core of the Department’s community based policing efforts.

The PACE program is heavily dependent on the hard work of the Senior Lead Officers (SLOs) who maintain an active liaison with area residents and other City entities. Once a problem has been identified, officers will complete the Community Enhancement Request (CER) form. This form is reviewed by a supervisor who then forwards it to the proper City department that will handle the specified problem.

Public works agencies, such as the City of Los Angeles’ Board of Public Works, can supply equipment and staff for larger projects, while landscaping firms or other businesses can donate supplies and plants. Publicity and coordination with other police-advised beautification projects help enhance the success of such efforts. Volunteer patrols help support maintenance, and publicity helps protect areas from future deterioration.

Additional Resources

City of Los Angeles, Office of Community Beautification Overview
The Office of Community Beautification (OCB) serves as a resource for community improvement programs throughout Los Angeles. OCB programs are designed to empower neighborhoods and community groups. By utilizing OCB services, participants improve their environment while building partnerships with the City of Los Angeles.

Graffiti Removal Forms
Click here to access the On-line Graffiti Removal Service Request Form

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