Board schooled on graffiti tactics

Graffiti vandals in The City would be tagged with more court punishment if one judge handled the cases and a legal defense mechanism did not help suspects from being prosecuted, according to recommendations made by a City Hall report on graffiti.

The report, spurred by a recent motion by the Board of Supervisors to review the Department of Public Works’ graffiti abatement program, made 10 recommendations to The City about what can be done to prevent graffiti vandalism.

According to the report, the Department of Public Works cleaned up 700,000 square feet of graffiti, mostly on public property such as utility poles, stop lights, trash cans, fire hydrants and park benches and parking meters, during thelast fiscal year.

Despite the recommendations, the report said the priority for officials would be to have the San Francisco Superior Court designate a single judge to review graffiti cases. The report also states that officials should pass legislation prohibiting “civil compromises” in misdemeanor graffiti cases and have Public Works hold annual graffiti assessments to keep track of the amount of city graffiti.

The City has battled with graffiti in the past. Last year, Mayor Gavin Newsom famously offered a $2,500 reward for information leading to the arrest of the person responsible for the scourge of “BNE” stickers, the work of an alleged sticker-graffiti artist.

State law allows victims to “civilly compromise” with the offender in misdemeanor cases. In a graffiti case, when the amount of damage is less than $400, the victim can reach a private agreement for reimbursement of repairs, according to the report. If this occurs, the court dismisses the case and there can be no prosecution, officials said.

City leaders passed a controversial graffiti cleanup law, which went into effect in 2004, that makes it illegal for private-property owners to leave graffiti untouched on their property. Property owners have 30 days after receiving notice from Public Works to remove the graffiti themselves or pay The City $500, or the cleanup cost, if it is more than $500.

Public Works spokeswoman Christine Falvey said the department sent out 4,400 notices to property owners during the fiscal year 2006-07 and saw 77 percent of owners clean up the graffiti within 30 days.

Paint by numbers

194 vandalism cases through Oct. 11, 2007

140 cases recorded in 2006

700,000 square feet of graffiti cleaned (FY2006-07)

25 Public Works employees

$3.4 million to combat vandalism

– Source: DPW, SFPD, Office of the Legislative Analyst

dsmith@examiner.com

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