SPRINGFIELD — Believe me, there are many, many more crimes that occur in our community that warrant significant attention and resources above something like graffiti.
Violent crime, hate crime, robbery, and so many more leap to mind. If those crimes are like a cancer on our society, graffiti might be more akin to a bad cold.
But like a cold, graffiti is incredibly frustrating, and like a cold, it tends to spread easily. In Springfield, we’ve seen a real uptick in graffiti and leading voices in both the business community and law enforcement stress that the entire community cannot become complacent if we hope to put a real dent in the problem.
“We are trying to solve the problem in the moment,” said Vonnie Mikkelsen, president and CEO of the Springfield Chamber of Commerce. “Business owners don’t just complain, they want solutions and want to be a part of the solution.”
Mikkelsen knows first-hand how graffiti can impact people in greater ways than just aesthetics.
“We are located in the historic train depot,” Mikkelsen says of the chamber office. “We take a lot of pride in maintaining it for our staff and for the community, and we’ve been tagged several times, and it hurts that sense of pride. We can paint over it, but especially with profanity or hate speech, it can be demoralizing to staff and visitors alike.”
Mikkelsen also pointed out the cost of repainting or cleaning graffiti is often borne by the taxpayers.
So, what can we do?
If there’s a singular message from law enforcement about how the community can combat graffiti, it’s this: report, report, report. Indeed, the two largest police forces in our region say that the worst thing we can do is become resigned to graffiti as a permanent condition.
“We want you to report any and all graffiti,” said Sergeant Pete Kirkpatrick of the Springfield Police Department. “Understand that while we might not be able to apprehend the perpetrator immediately, by reporting a graffiti incident, you help us assemble a larger database that can help us either deter or catch those who commit graffiti.”
Kirkpatrick also pointed out that by reporting incidents, the police can work with key groups to try and stop the crime before it begins.
“In Springfield, most graffiti is committed by high school students, so if we get enough reports, we can and do work with the schools to see if we can identify and then work with kids who are doing this.”
Additionally, Kirkpatrick said that graffiti is often a crime of emulation and that if it isn’t reported it might stay up long enough for another person to try and copy it. In a way, an unreported tag is almost like an invitation to make more.
In most circumstances, if a youth is caught committing graffiti, the police and the Serbu Juvenile Justice Center will try to intercede and stop the child from escalating their criminal activity.
“Our non-emergency line is a great resource,” he says. “We want people to use it for two reasons: first it brings us the initial report that we can build data upon, and second it allows us to interact with citizens and oftentimes re-assure them that we take graffiti as seriously as they do.”
In neighboring Eugene, Police Chief Chris Skinner shares the view that citizens can’t over-report graffiti and that such reports help law enforcement in their battle against this type of low-level crime.
“It’s important to understand that while some people may label graffiti a nuisance crime, we don’t think of it that way,” he said. “And so, we want people to communicate with us about it.”
In Eugene, the chief and his team have also invested in technology to make it easier for citizens to report such crimes with a smartphone, or computer.
“Online reporting is much more user friendly, and it can and will revolutionize how people can report lower-level crime quickly and effectively,” said the chief.
To that end, Eugene PD has rolled out a program called My PD Connect: an online portal where citizens can report, upload photos, and interact with a police representative about graffiti.
“This tool will allow us to both take reports quickly, assemble better information and process data that can enhance our actions around prevention and enforcement.”
In a city that removes nearly 4,000 graffiti tags each year, My PD Connect may become a powerful tool in lowering that number.
It’s no secret that graffiti is a massive detraction from our sense of pride in our community. Just driving down a main road or a small neighborhood street and the sudden shocking blaze of spray paint can make one feel angry and maybe even a bit hopeless. But listening to business and law enforcement leaders alike, we all must do our part to stay vigilant, communicative, and above all, hopeful.
Michael Dunne is a business columnist for The Chronicle.