Calgary police get tough on prolific graffiti vandals
By Michael Platt,Calgary Sun
The rattle of the spray can, versus the click of the cuffs.
In a year that saw graffiti tags staining everything from the Peace Bridge to the historic Lougheed House, police say they’ve left their own mark on a culture of vandalism loathed by a majority of citizens.
It adds up to 322 criminal charges, 62 arrest warrants and seven search warrants issued again some of Calgary’s most prolific spray-paint vandals — including one 18-year-old charged for 45 graffiti displays causing about $30,000 in damage.
“The results are impressive — in 2011, there were maybe 120 charges, so the number has gone up substantially,” said Const. Dave Ladic, the Calgary Police Service’s graffiti co-ordinator.
January 2012 marked the launch of a new unit called the Joint Graffiti Investigative Team, consisting of officers from police and bylaw services, as well as officials from Calgary Transit.
“It’s taken away from the duplicity of investigations, so if transit is investigating one offender on their line, and we’re investigating the same guy over a retaining wall, there’s continuity,” said Ladic.
“That way we’re not wasting resources doing the same investigation twice and coming to the same conclusion.”
A simple solution, and it appears to have given police an upper hand against a controversial crime, one that fuels debate over what counts as art, and whether cities should do more to embrace graffiti culture.
But for every budding Banksy creating what might be construed as legitimate street art, Calgary seems to have a legion of brazen clods who just like to wreck stuff, leaving their puerile paint scribbles on every possible surface.
Usually, it’s just annoying, though very expensive.
It costs roughly $6 million each year to remove the estimated 200,000 sq.-ft. of graffiti left annually on private and public property around Calgary, including fences, bus stops and buildings.
And sometimes, as with the Lougheed House, the vandals show such contempt that it triggers renewed loathing for all graffiti, effectively erasing all efforts to promote spray paint as a legitimate medium.
It was September 15, just days after former premier Peter Lougheed died, when someone scaled his family’s historic mansion on 13 Ave. S.W. and tagged the roof, a chimney and a sandstone wall.
Almost as infuriating was the tagging spree which sullied Calgary’s Peace Bridge in April, as skulkers with spray cans tried to use the new landmark to promote their own sad egos.
When it comes to tagging historic structures and places that deserve respect, even other graffiti artists hold such vandalism in contempt.
“When someone tags a church, a school or someone’s private property, that bugs me too — the Lougheed House was just stupid,” said David Brunning, a Calgary artist with roots in illegal graffiti culture.
Now a professional artist paid by cities like Portland, Oregon to create public murals, Brunning has long argued that Calgary should embrace graffiti by encouraging artists with spaces where paint is legal.
Cities in Europe and Asia do, lending interest and colour to areas that are otherwise drab or ugly — and Brunning says it would nurture artists while reducing vandalism.
“If you give people an outlet instead of just coming down with the heavy hand of the law, a lot of those kids are going to catch on,” said Brunning.
But logical debate is never going to happen while there are fools who ruin private property and public monuments for the sake of notoriety.
Ladic says the work of the Joint Graffiti Investigative Team has given police an upper hand on a loathsome crime, and complaints have dropped dramatically as vandals grow wary.
In 2011, there were roughly 10,000 graffiti complaints called into the city — a number that dropped back to 8,000 in 2012.
“I think we’re causing a bit of fear, and chasing some of them out of Calgary,” said Ladic.
NUMBERS PAINT UGLY PICTURE
* $6 million: Annual cost estimated by Calgary police in graffiti damage
* 60: Estimated number of prolific graffiti vandals operating in Calgary at any given time.
* 72 hours: The maximum time police say it should take to remove fresh graffiti in order to:
a) Reduce the chances or reoccurrence
b) Sends a clear message to taggers that defacing property is not acceptable
c) Takes away any recognition from the vandalism
* $5,000: The maximum fine available under the city’s Community Standards Bylaw for those caught defacing property with graffiti. This is in addition to the cost of restitution required under the Canadian Criminal Code.
* Graffiti incidents reported to the city’s 311 line by year:
2012: 8,000 (approximately)
2011: 10,000 (approximately)
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