Goodbye graffiti: How to remove and prevent graffiti

by FM Media
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LORRAINE JARRETT, graffiti taskforce support officer for the West Australian Police Graffiti Team, provides some advice on graffiti removal and prevention.

In Australia, the community views graffiti vandalism as one of the top two neighbourhood problems. While it is difficult to estimate the total cost of the problem, the cost to Western Australian state government agencies, local councils, infrastructure owners, business and private property owners is thought to be in excess of $30 million.
This estimate is likely to be a conservative one, given that graffiti vandalism, like other forms of criminal damage, is not always reported to police. In addition, the cost of graffiti is not only financial. Indirect costs to society, such as environmental harm, fear for safety, reduced civic pride and a decline in property value, also have a significant impact on communities.

Best practice graffiti reduction, nationally and internationally, recognises that an effective approach to graffiti reduction needs to incorporate a variety of interventions including prevention, education, removal, community engagement and sanctions. The recently developed Tough on Graffiti Strategy 2011-2015 addresses these varied interventions.
The prevalent nature of graffiti vandalism has made it a complex problem to fully combat. Rapid removal is one strategy that is being implemented to address this. The term ‘rapid removal’ refers to the process in which graffiti is removed within a relatively short period of time, generally 24 to 48 hours, following detection.
The effectiveness of this initiative is based around the premise that rapid removal can counteract motivation for graffiti vandalism by limiting exposure time of the work and, consequently, recognition from peers. It is recommended that rapid removal of graffiti is carried out in combination with other prevention activities, such as appropriate landscape design, effective lighting and other designing out crime methods.
Methods of removal are different according to the surface type and may include:

  • Brick, render, limestone and natural surfaces:
    • A number of specific graffiti removal products are available from retail outlets.
    • A household product that may be effective is a cold caustic oven cleaner. Spray the oven cleaner onto the damaged area and leave for six to eight hours, scrub the surface with a hard scrubbing brush and wash off with water. It is important to wear gloves and safety glasses for protection when using oven cleans. Do not use caustics on or near aluminium.
    • Liquid laundry detergent or methylated spirits may be effective for marker damage.
  • Painted surfaces:
    • Repainting a painted surface is often the most effective method of removing graffiti, as it does not affect the existing paint finish.
    • When repainting a surface, the matched colour should always be used. Experience shows that the use of a contrasting colour may attract further graffiti as the patch will provide a ‘frame’ for the vandal’s work.
  • Fibro-cement (‘super-six’) fences:
    • Painting out graffiti damage is recommended as this type of surface is porous.
    • Painting out an entire sheet or sheets of fencing will help achieve a more uniform appearance and prevent the fence from appearing patchy.
    • Try paint that is asbestos grey or polished grey in colour for a close colour match.

‘Designing out crime’ is a crime prevention strategy that aims to reduce the opportunity for crime through the design and management of the built and landscaped environments. It is commonly referred to as crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED).
It suggests that opportunities for crime can be reduced by maximising opportunities for natural surveillance, territorial reinforcement and natural access control. Evidence shows that by applying CPTED principles and techniques in planning of locations there is a significant reduction in the incidence of crime.
CPTED principles can be applied in preventing graffiti vandalism by changing the design of or treating the graffiti target, for example:

  • choose surfaces that are difficult to apply paint or markers to, such as rough/uneven surfaces, non-porous materials, or use hedging plants or creeping vegetation to cover walls
  • minimise natural ladders that provide easy access to upper-level targets
  • locate signs at a height that makes them difficult for offenders to reach
  • anti-graffiti coatings can be applied to most walls and structure types to make cleaning graffiti faster and easier
  • secure outdoor rubbish bins in such a manner that they cannot be used to access roofs and other elevated areas
  • maximise the chances that offenders will be seen or caught
  • use permeable or semi-permeable fencing instead of solid walls
  • strategically locate windows to allow natural surveillance
  • install signage to identify the asset use and provide possible witnesses with a point of contact
  • increase lighting and surveillance to increase the perceived risk of detection
  • use design to create ownership of space so that offenders are more likely to be seen and reported or challenged
  • place a hedge, fibrous material wall or dense vegetation, especially those with thorns or spikes immediately in front of a target
  • maintain vegetation to ensure adequate surveillance
  • use securely placed lighting with a recommended visibility range of 15 metres, removing concealed areas for offenders
  • consider CCTV (closed-circuit television) for high risk areas, or areas that do not allow for natural surveillance, and
  • place legal artwork on a graffiti hotspot to deter offending in high risk areas.

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