— Pamela Roth
When Const. Franco Brushetta took over the role of anti graffiti coordinator for Victoria police, he didn’t know much about the meaning behind the paint splashed across various properties throughout the city.
But the more he became entrenched in the position, the more he studied the psychology behind graffiti vandalism, and got to know what’s going through the mind of those committing the crime.
“There’s a whole graffiti subculture that’s out there that people need to understand,” said Brushetta. “It depends on their upbringing, where they’ve come from, their social background, who they hang out with, their friends and what not. Recognition is huge.”
Every week, Victoria police receive between six to 12 calls about graffiti vandalism in various parts of the city. Those files land on Brushetta’s desk, where he assists members with trying to determine what the tag is and who the potential tagger might be to follow up with any charges.
Brushetta estimates there are between 10 to 15 people who tag all types of infrastructure, such as power poles and mail boxes to walls and etching glass. The culprits are mainly males, ranging in age from 16 to their thirties.
Some of the vandals have been identified by police, but Brushetta said it’s difficult to prove that they are the ones committing the crime. So far police have been able to charge between two to four graffiti vandals a month, but Brushetta would like to see more arrests made.
“It’s difficult catching them. If you have video evidence or an eyewitness, you’re golden. That’s what we need,” said Brushetta. “People who are out driving around with their cell phones and see somebody actually tagging a wall, they need to call 911.”
The Downtown Victoria Business Association (DVBA) removes an average of 100 tags of all shapes and sizes within their downtown boundaries every week. Most tags at street level in the downtown core are removed within 24 hours, but city staff are seeing a rise in larger tags placed high on rooftops that take more time to remove.
In order to prevent some of the tagging, the city has launched a program that will turn a number of graffiti hot spots into 10 colourful murals. The program matches professional artists with youth interested in public art, then create murals in six locations throughout Victoria and surrounding neighbourhoods.
Brushetta believes the program is a step in the right direction, but the problem will never go away.
“There’s always going to be people out there wanting to tag and get their name out there,” he said, noting murals seldom get marked or tagged.
During the last two-and-a-half years on the job, Brushetta has seen the graffiti problem remain steady and credits volunteer groups for going out and removing tags in neighbourhoods themselves. Removing the graffiti as soon as possible is key so they don’t become another Tolmie Lane.
For years, Tolmie Lane was riddled with graffiti and businesses were marked with hundreds of tags of all shapes and sizes. A year-and-a-half ago, police and city officials approached business owners that backed onto the alley to paint over the graffiti and continue to do so whenever the tags returned.
Now, Brushetta said the lane has been relatively graffiti free.
“Eventually over time they will get tired of going back there because they know it’s going to get cleaned up and nobody is going to see their tags if people are taking responsibility and cleaning up the property,” said Brushetta, adding tagged property should be reported to police before it’s cleaned up.
“If they don’t (clean it up right away), then the tagger is going to think that’s acceptable and he’s going to keep coming back. It’s a simple concept, but it works.”