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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, May 15, 2006

Time to get tough with graffiti vandals

Call it art. Call it a form of self-expression. In reality, graffiti is nothing more than vandalism — and it's against the law.

With graffiti on the rise on O'ahu, it's time for a new approach.

As Downtown resident Lynne Matusow noted in last Friday's Advertiser, Hawai'i's new graffiti law is not much of a deterrent.

Under the law, taggers convicted of graffiti vandalism three times within a five-year period could face jail time and /or a $2,000 fine. The charges depend on the cost of refacing the graffiti-damaged site.

To better deal with the problem requires a deeper understanding of graffiti vandalism and a collective effort on several fronts.

Studies show immediate removal of graffiti, within 48 hours, is the key to successful graffiti abatement programs. Graffiti vandals come from all socio-economic backgrounds—it's not a crime exclusive to gang members. And the average age of a graffiti vandal is 17-18; most are seeking fame, self-expression or a sense of power.

So how can we win this one? Hawai'i should take a page from the city of San Antonio's playbook. Officials there have partnered with schools, local businesses and the community to eradicate the problem.

They have a graffiti hotline to report graffiti so that it can be removed immediately. If they see a tagger at work, residents are encouraged to call 911. The city of San Antonio offers free paint for graffiti cleanup projects, and it has a program for local business and others who want to donate paint and cleaning supplies. The city also offers lesson plans to teachers. All of this and more is on their Web site: www.sanantonio.gov/graffiti.

Now for the stick.

Jail time for such a crime is not the answer, with our jails already filled to the brim. But let's not wait for the third offense to get tough.

Stiff fines on the first conviction , coupled with community service, is the way to go. And in the event the offender cannot pay the fine, then double the community service hours — part of that should include cleaning up graffiti-littered sites.

Taggers are reaching for their 15-minutes of fame, and thrive on seeing their monikers displayed for all to see. So let's give them a bright orange jumpsuit, a can of paint and a brush and let them perform community service cleanup, for all to see.