February is Graffiti-Free Phoenix month. We’ll show you how the city works to wipe out graffiti.
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Ted Simons: The City of Phoenix is designating February as Graffiti-Free Phoenix. It's a movement calling on individuals and groups to help wipe out graffiti. Producer Christina Estes and photographer Kyle Mounce have the details.
Nancy Blabe: We have 334 homes here. We have single family homes here and townhomes. It's an older community, we have a lot of mature landscaping. The trees are so beautiful. It's just this neeat little oasis right in the center of town.
Christine Estes: But sometimes ugliness creeps into Nancy Blabe's neighborhood.
Nancy Blabe: Because we are right next to an easement. Behind us there's a lot of foot traffic that can take place back there unfortunately that can also be seen as a big place that's dark with not a lot of activity, great for tagging.
Christine Estes: Every year the City of Phoenix spends more than $2 million on its graffiti-Buster program. That only covers 16 workers and the equipment used by the neighborhood services department.
Bruce Nelson: You have to think about the other entities that are removing grafitti. Parks department, streets department, public works department, aviation. All the other city departments. Then you start to think about the public entities, SRP, APS, the businesses, the people that never report it. It just goes on and on into a very expensive proposition.
Christine Estes: Bruce Nelson manages the graffiti buster program. He says the issue runs deeper than esthetics.
Bruce Nelson: If you're a business and you're trying to generate people coming to your business and there's graffiti on your property or nearby, often people look right by. Therefore you're hurting businesses and future jobs.
Christine Estes: Nelson says are there two types of graffiti vandals. Taggers who leave their personal marks and gang member whose mark their territory.
Bruce Nelson: Most cannot tell a tagger from a gang. If my house or property in tags, why, who did this? Are they trying to send a message?
Nancy Blabe: It makes me crazy.
Christine Estes: Nancy Blabe is sending her own message.
Nancy Blabe: I'm a blight Buster.
Christine Estes: She spends eight hours a month volunteering as a blight Buster.
Nancy Blabe: It's one thing to see what's around us and easy to expect someone else to do that. I think there's a lot of personal satisfaction in being that person who contributes to the cleanup and to keeping your community nice.
Christine Estes: While volunteers and city workers arm themselves with paint, the city also run a reward program where anonymous callers who report graffiti vandal can earn cash, if it leads to someone being caught.
Bruce Nelson: The typical person that does the tagging is usually a teenaged boy. They start about 7th or 8th grade. Sometimes if they don't have an intervention, they continue this behavior into their adulthood and it almost becomes an addictive behavior.
Christine Estes: Without tips and volunteers, Nelson says they could never cover so much graffiti. That's why they provide the training, tools, and thanks.
Nancy Blabe: I've been in other volunteer programs. Sometimes you just kind of feel like you're investing your time, investing your energy, you know, who cares. But the people in place with this program, they touch base with us, they email us, the staff are super nice, they very responsive. They get us the things we need so we know what we're doing matters.
Ted Simons: And that is it for now. I'm Ted Simons, thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.