Graffiti Free Phoenix

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We’ll show you how the City of Phoenix works to wipe out graffiti.

José Cárdenas: The city of Phoenix is calling on people and groups to help wipe out graffiti. Producer Christina Estes and photographer Kyle Mounce show us how it's being done.

Nancy Blabe: We have 334 homes here. We have single-family homes and town homes. It's an older community. We have a lot of future landscaping. The trees are so beautiful. This is -- it's just this neat little oasis right in the center of town.

Christina Estes: But sometimes, ugliness creeps in to Nancy'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 and unfortunately that can also be seen as a big place that's dark with not a lot of activity. Great for tagging.

Christina 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 all the other entities that are removing graffiti. Parks department, streets department, public works department, aviation, all the other -- city departments, then you start thinking about the public entities, S.R.P., A.P.S., the businesses, the people that never report it. It just goes on and on into a very expensive proposition.

Christina 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 into your business and there's graffiti, often people will drive by and therefore, you're hurting businesses and future jobs.

Christina Estes: Nelson says there are two types of graffiti vandals, taggers who leave their personal marks and gang members who mark their territory.

Bruce Nelson: Most people cannot tell a tagger from a gang. So if my house or my property is tagged, why? Who did this? Are they trying to send a message?

Nancy Blabe: Makes you crazy.

Christina Estes: Nancy is sending her own message.

Nancy Blabe: I'm a buster.

Christina 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 it's easy to expect someone else to do that but I think there's a lot of personal satisfaction in being that person who contributes to the cleanup and to keeping your community nice.

Christina Estes: While volunteers and city workers arm themselves with paint, the city also runs a reward program where anonymous callers who report graffiti vandals can earn crash if it leads to someone being caught.

Bruce Nelson: The typical person that does tagging is usually a teenaged boy. They start about seventh or eighth grade and sometimes, if they don't have an intervention, they'll continue this behavior into their adulthood and it almost becomes an addictive behavior.

Christina Estes: Without tips and volunteers, Nelson says the city 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 and sometimes, you just kind of feel like you're investing your time, you're investing your energy, you know, who cares, but the people who are in place with this program, they touch base with us, they e-mail us, the staff are super nice. They're very responsive. They get us the things that we need so that we know what we're doing matters.

José Cárdenas: The city also lends paint sprayers and tools for groups holding community clean-ups. You can get more information by visiting the neighborhood services department at


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