Lessons learned from Lincoln's graffiti problems

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Smaller towns have many advantages, and one of them is the rarity of big-city problems like gangs and the graffiti they leave behind.

Most residents are too proud to let spray-painted "turf" markings take over their buildings, and peer pressure eliminates the problem for most of the rest.

But Lincoln's problem is worth watching, and one councilwoman has the right idea.

Councilwoman Patte Newman is proposing an ordinance that would make owners keep their properties graffiti-free, and set mandatory minimum sentences for those who did the decorating.

It's not an attempt to "revictimize" property owners, according to a Lincoln Journal-Star story, but would "set consequences if they refused to do anything even after being offered help from a volunteer network that is being created," according to a story that moved on The Associated Press.

Lincoln officials are right to be concerned, because the problem is growing. There were 91 cases of graffiti reported in 2004, 224 in 2005 and 454 for the first six months of the year, Newman said.

New York found years ago that aggressively attacking graffiti on subway cars discouraged the "artists" to the point that they gave up. Studies show that graffiti is unlikely to reappear if it's removed within a couple of days.

Lincoln's police chief visited two California cities with aggressive anti-graffiti policies and found that they have little of it to contend with.

The Lincoln council is set to vote on the ordinance on Sept. 11, and would be wise to approve it.

Many of the same principals apply to other aspects of small-town life, such as keeping down weeds, cleaning up yards, keeping up the appearance of homes and removing junked cars.

Aggressively attacking those problems is more relevant for McCook, Southwest Nebraska and Northwest Kansas, and just as effective.

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