Calgary teenagers caught spraying graffiti will now be given an ultimatum: a $1,000 fine, or a weekly arts program.
Calgary police are launching a two-year pilot project next week through the Boys and Girls Clubs of Calgary. Up the Wall will provide youth aged 12 to 17 with six hours of monitored weekly art expression for 12 weeks.
The hope is that highlighting creativity will help deter troubled young people from seeking acceptance in vandalism-focused subcultures.
“My primary goal is to see them build healthy relationships with the mentors and staff involved, and develop a strong sense of self-worth,” Marie Mabbett told the Herald. The outreach worker for high-risk youth will be leading the first group of twelve. “They can really look at who they are, and how they’re expressing their emotions.”
Supt. Richard Hinse told a Thursday morning press conference that acceptance is what draws youth to graffiti.
“It is about community; it’s about wanting to belong. You look to create that wherever you are. The community could be around sports for some kids; this is around art. That is the community they belong to (but) they express it in an illegal fashion,” he said. This echoes a Herald report published last month, in which multiple graffiti vandals said they’re fuelled by a sense of belonging.
Dawn Ford, the city’s public art program co-ordinator, calls graffiti “one of the most commercially successful art forms, as long as its done in a legitimate and appropriate fashion.” She says the city has already integrated graffiti into public spaces, with more potentially coming from Up the Wall.
If caught in the act, minors can face a $1,000 bylaw fine, while adults face $5,000. The Criminal Code charge of mischief to property can also be levied, leading to fines, probation or even jail time.
Police will now be giving teens the option to join Up the Wall instead of paying a fine. Police will also approach youth they believe are at risk of taking up vandalism.
For a total of 72 hours, Up the Wall participants will be gathered in a City of Calgary art facility to learn, discuss and practise self-expression through art. Sessions will focus on social justice, the history of graffiti and positive civic engagement.
Up the Wall takes after Vancouver’s RestART (restorative justice through art) program, which has provided counselling and art teaching to at-risk youth since 2004.
The Calgary initiative has a budget of $132,000 for the pilot project’s first two years, which comes from both police and the city’s Crime Prevention Investment Plan. The program will be offered up to three times a year, with 10 to 12 participants during each session. That adds up to roughly $1,833 per participant.
Last year, a Calgary police estimate pegged the annual cost of graffiti cleanup at $6 million. They highlight that graffiti can encourage criminal activity, and often spreads as vandals compete over recognition of their “tags.”
Officer Ron Basso, graffiti co-ordinator with the city’s animal and bylaw services, says the city is fighting graffiti through five areas: education, prevention, eradication, rehabilitation and enforcement.
The city launched a joint task force on graffiti surrounding these principles in 2012, just months after the Poppy Plaza war memorial was vandalized days before Remembrance Day 2011. A citywide plan is still in the works.
Police say graffiti complaints have risen this year due to easier reporting techniques, while the reports surround fewer incidents.
By Dylan Robertson, Calgary Hearld May 29, 2014
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