By CSO Chris Huynh, Graffiti Abatement, Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office
Published August 1, 2017
Graffiti is a wide range of markings, etchings, and painting that deface public and private property. The graffiti offenders use different materials to perform their criminal acts such as; spray paint, permanent markers, crayons, chalk, or lipstick. Knifes, screw drivers, or any other hard sharp tool is used to scratch or etch their markings. Graffiti is a form of vandalism. Most of the cases of graffiti vandalism in Sonoma County are considered misdemeanors, depending on the value of the vandalism. Vandalism over $450 is considered a felony. Graffiti is a high cost crime because of the time spent in the cleanup, the prevention, and Law Enforcements time in investigating. Although most graffiti is not reported to Law Enforcement.
Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office does have a Graffiti Abatement Program. The Graffiti Abatement Program has a Community Services Officer (CSO) taking care of the cleanup and painting over of the graffiti. The Graffiti Abatement CSO takes care of the unincorporated areas of Sonoma County. The CSO normally takes phone calls, on-line reports, or if he sees graffiti in his travels he will stop and clean it up. If the graffiti is on public property he cleans it up, but if the graffiti is on private property he will ask for permission from the owners. There is typically four types of Graffiti;
- Gang graffiti, often used by gangs to mark turf, convey threats of violence, sometimes copycat graffiti, and wannabe gang bangers.
- Tagger Graffiti, offenders thinking they are artists. This type ranges from high volume, to simple hits, to complex street art.
- Conventional Graffiti, often isolated or spontaneous acts of youthful exuberance which can be malicious or vindictive.
- Ideological Graffiti, conveys messages of political, hate, racial, religious, or ethnic slurs.
Motives of Offenders
While making graffiti does not offer material reward to offenders, contrary to public opinion, it does have meaning. Rather than being a senseless destruction of property, graffiti fulfills certain psychological needs, including providing excitement and action, a sense of control, and an element of risk. The different types of graffiti are associated with different motives, although these drives may overlap. Distinguishing between types of graffiti and associated motives is a critical step for developing an effective response. Historically, much conventional graffiti has represented a youthful “rite of passage”–part of a phase of experimental behavior. Such graffiti is usually spontaneous and not malicious in nature; indeed, spontaneous graffiti has often been characterized as play, adventure, or exuberance. Spontaneous graffiti may reflect local traditions and appear on "fair targets" such as abandoned buildings or schools. Communities have often tolerated such graffiti. The motives for some types of conventional graffiti may include anger and hostility toward society, and the vandalism thus fulfills some personal psychological need. The graffiti may arise from boredom, despair, resentment, failure, and/or frustration, in which case it may be vindictive or malicious. A related type of graffiti is ideological. Ideological graffiti expresses hostility or a grievance–often quite explicitly. Such graffiti is usually easily identified by its content, reflecting a political, religious, ethnic, or other bias. Offenders may strategically target certain locations to further the message.
Who are the taggers?
The ages mostly range from 13 years to 17 years of age. 72% of the offenders are 16 years of age or younger and mostly males.
Where do you find the graffiti?
Graffiti can be found everywhere and anywhere. Typically graffiti is found in places of plane sight such as; on vehicles, walls facing streets, on the street, on the freeway, traffic signs, statues and monuments, and on and under bridges. In addition, it appears on vending machines, park benches, utility poles, utility boxes, billboards, trees, sidewalks, parking garages, schools, business and residence walls, garages, fences, and sheds. In short, graffiti appears almost any place open to public view.
Graffiti tends to recur in some locations. Areas where graffiti has been painted over–especially with contrasting colors–may be a magnet to be revandalized. Some offenders are highly tenacious–conducting a psychological battle with authorities or owners for their claim over an area or specific location. Graffiti locations are often characterized by the absence of anyone with direct responsibility for the area. This includes public areas, schools, vacant buildings, and buildings with absentee landlords. Offenders also target locations with poor lighting and little oversight by police or security personnel.
Two types of surfaces attract graffiti offenders; Light-colored surfaces. Dark surfaces do not generally attract as much graffiti, but can be marred with light-colored paint. Large and plain surfaces. Surfaces without windows or doors may be appealing for large-scale projects. Smooth surfaces especially attract offenders who use felt-tip markers.
In Sonoma County most of the graffiti is found in the Roseland area, some in Sonoma Valley, some in Forestville and Guerneville, not much in the rural areas. What is found in the rural areas is street signs with graffiti.
The most effective way to control graffiti is to clean it up right away. If you cannot paint over it, chemically remove it, then you may have to replace whatever is vandalized.
Increasing the Difficulty of Offending
Textured surfaces are not attractive targets for graffiti, as they obscure legibility. Such surfaces are particularly difficult for offenders to draw on or paint. Such surfaces include deeply grooved surfaces and rough surfaces such as exposed rock and rough cement. Dark or colorful surfaces make graffiti less visible, thus deterring offenders. Dark surfaces are more difficult to mark up, although light paint can be used. Colorful or busy surfaces, such as advertisements on the sides of buses, deflect graffiti. Flecked or spotted wall surfaces also mask graffiti.
To report graffiti call the SCSO at 707-565-2650 or go to the Sonoma County website and click on Report it. The Graffiti Abatement CSO will get back to you to make arrangements with you. If you wish to donate materials to our Graffiti Abatement Program please call 707-565-2650 to make arrangements with the Graffiti CSO. The CSO prefers flat water base paint only, dark brown, brown, gray, or white paints. He has limit storage space and will not be able to take massive amounts of paint, but there is plenty of graffiti and he does use the paint donated to him.
If you haven’t already done so, make sure to call and apply for an Owner Applied Number (OAN). We can even assist you in applying the number to your equipment. If you have any questions or would like to apply for an OAN, please call the Sonoma County Rural Crime Task Force at 707-565-3940.