Mykel Furgason

Saanich residents wage war on graffiti

Police, municipality promote cleanup and maintenance of public areas

Nefarious deeds take place behind overgrown brush between homes and the Seaton Street pedestrian underpass.

It’s an area where used needles and other trash are found. All the concrete, rocks and light fixtures in the tunnel that runs underneath the Trans-Canada Highway are splashed in paint, marker and even white out graffiti.

“There are things (drawn) at eye level that kids shouldn’t be seeing or reading,” says Saanich police Const. Mark Pamminger. Some tags are absurd, others obscene.

Pamminger, the police department’s graffiti co-ordinator and a bike section member, is happy all the vandalism will be gone this week. Saanich crews and a contractor power-washed the marked up surfaces last week, and are expected to finish painting over everything this afternoon (April 16).

“Some see graffiti as art (but) it’s vandalism when it’s not consensual. It’s not their property,” Pamminger says. “As artists they want to be seen. If you paint over it, why would they come back? The faster you remove graffiti the less they will return.”

He cites personal anecdotal evidence in another area of Saanich where a business on the Galloping Goose Regional Trail took personal pride in their concrete wall. It was tagged five times, and every time the business owner quickly painted over the damage. The amount of graffiti in that area has dropped.

The quick removal plan is in place for Seaton, thanks to regular patrols by Saanich police officers and municipal staff.

“The police alone can’t deal with this,” Pamminger says. “It’s a collaborative approach. Police are just facilitating the movement. It’s a community issue.”

Assistance from the municipality, which allots roughly $100,000 a year for graffiti removal over all departments, and residents are critical elements to the never-ending graffiti puzzle, he says.

Brian Butterfield, who lives in the Quadra neighbourhood, engaged in the battle about two years ago. Since then, he’s painted more than 300 telephone poles – a common canvas for graffiti tags.

“It’s a huge sense of satisfaction when I’m doing it,” he says. “I feel empowered. I’m making a difference.”

Butterfield took a four-hour cruise through Saanich last week checking up on many of his prior projects and reports that little vandalism had reappeared. He believes, based on the presence of graffiti elsewhere in the expansive municipality, that many residents don’t know or are unaware of how they can help combat unwanted art.

“I see it building up and getting worse and worse, and running the town down. It’s easy to remove it and discourages more of it from coming back,” Butterfield says. “Take some ownership, take some pride and (do) not let the vandals take over the neighbourhood and run our neighbourhoods down.”

He hopes to get others involved in the fight by promoting the free graffiti removal kits available through Saanich public works (250-475-5599). These kits include paint, brushes, gloves, disposable coveralls and visibility safety vests.

“People can sit down and have meetings, but it’s only when people pick up a paintbrush that graffiti gets gone,” Butterfield says. And he knows from personal experience that it bolsters the pride in the community.

The police are focusing on cleanup, and plan to address overgrown brush in areas like the Seaton underpass in hopes of keeping the area clean.

“You’re going to feel safer,” Pamminger says. “You’re going to feel the community is taking care of itself. You can’t put a price on that.”

Visit saanich.ca/services/graffiti to learn more about the graffiti kits, and how to report graffiti on private property such as bus shelters, BC Hydro boxes or telephone poles. Contact the police non-emergency line 250-475-4321 to report graffiti. Call 911 to report graffiti in progress.

reporter@saanichnews.com

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