Police Chief Bob Floor said he supports the idea of requiring property owners to remove graffiti.
"Graffiti is a community problem, just like letting your grass grow up," he said.
Floor was questioned for his thoughts on some ideas floated recently by the Rules & Ordinances Committee of city council for dealing with graffiti, including an ordinance requiring the removal of graffiti from a property in a set amount of time.
He said property owners have the responsibility to remove it, but the police and city have no right now to go on a property to remove it for them. If it's profane, he said officers have asked people to get it removed or covered up.
He admitted he has some reservations about the proposed requirement because as a property owner, he doesn't like to be told what to do, but at the same time, "we do live in a community" and graffiti needs to be removed.
"It makes the whole neighborhood look bad," he said.
He said the city definitely has a graffiti problem, but "we're fortunate the graffiti we're finding does not indicate gang activity or criminal acts beyond the graffiti itself."
Since June 16, officers had documented 22 new instances of graffiti spaced out throughout the city, but over this past weekend, there was report of five additional new graffiti cases around the west side.
The spots hit included the west side of a business on Dodge Drive, the rear of a business on West State Street, the east side of a business on West Pershing Street, the southwest side of the West State Street overpass and a support structure underneath the overpass west of the tracks. Another case was reported Monday on West State Street.
According to Floor, the laws already in place for criminal damaging, criminal mischief and vandalism are adequate for dealing with the perpetrators of graffiti. He said there's obviously a difficulty in catching them because they can do their spraypainting rapidly and be done. Most of the people who are caught for graffiti are not caught in the act, they're caught through investigation.
"Quite often these people are proud of their work and they tell their friends about it," he said, noting friends will talk.
Often times, he said someone will be caught for something else or for graffiti and they'll give up another person who was part of the crime. They've also found leads on Facebook.
As for the idea of stressing to the courts the city's desire for wanting punishment for graffiti offenders, Floor said they already have a good cooperation with the courts. The courts let police know last year that all they need to know is that a charge is related to graffiti and they'll make sure cleanup is part of the sentencing. They'll order community service for cleaning up the graffiti and not just the graffiti done by the offender.
Floor noted that one of the misconceptions with graffiti is that it's all done by kids or juveniles. The majority of offenders caught by city police have been young adults who are over the age of 18. In most cases, the charge would be criminal damaging or criminal mischief, which are both misdemeanors. If it affects a business doing its operations or the amount of damage reaches a high dollar amount of $500 or more, then the charge is vandalism, which is a felony.
He said they want to find out who's been doing the graffiti in town, explaining that usually when they catch someone and they're convicted, the others back off.
The graffiti issue came up again during Tuesday's city council meeting, with city Service/Safety Director Ken Kenst announcing a notice would be sent to all city employees asking them to do their part to curtail graffiti by reporting any graffiti they see on city-owned property or city right-of-ways.
At least then the city can make sure the graffiti is removed or painted over and the city property kept as clean as possible, he said.
Drummond updated council members on his recent committee meeting regarding graffiti and possible ways to get graffiti removed by property owners, including requiring the property owners to remove any graffiti on their property in a set amount of time.
"When people see graffiti, they get the impression that the city doesn't care," he said, adding it's not going away on its own.
Councilman Dave Nestic said he received some feedback regarding the proposal that would "punish the victim," saying it would be met with some resistance. He questioned whether graffiti could be handled through a mayor's court so the city could control the punishment.
Drummond said the problem isn't being addressed by property owners. As long as the graffiti stays, the problem will likely expand. When property owners get rid of it, over time the problem abates significantly. He said it was not the committee's intention to pile on more regulations on property owners.
No date has been set for the committee to hold a work session with city Law Director Brooke Zellers to go over language for a proposed ordinance. Plans also call for another meeting where the public can ask questions and make comment about the issue.
Mary Ann Greier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org