Graffiti is widely recognised as vandalism and a blight on the environment and, in many cases, extensive resources are needed to combat it.
Tagging is the most common form of graffiti vandalism and, if left intact, attracts more tagging and creates an environment where other, more serious crimes such as burglary and assault may take hold.
But take heart, there are a number of actions schools can take to significantly reduce the amount of graffiti on the premises.
Take action against tagging
A strong response sends a clear message to those involved in tagging that it won’t be tolerated. Be proactive and keep your school clean of tagging, or report it immediately to an appropriate organisation for removal.
If someone is spotted tagging school property, dial 111 immediately and report it to the police. The following information will be asked for:
• Location of the incident.
• Description/s of offender/s.
• What they are doing.
• Direction of travel if they leave.
• Whether they are walking or in a vehicle.
• Registration number and description of vehicle.
The police are as keen as you are to catch the offenders. Record the graffiti or tag by taking a photograph, ideally with a digital camera, so it can be entered into the central tags database.
This enables the police to identify how many tags a tagger has created and the cost of their removal. It also helps when taggers are brought before the courts.
If you can do this without alerting the offenders the police have a better chance of catching them in the act.
If caught, the offenders will be prosecuted. The defacement of property by graffiti constitutes an offence of intentional damage under the Summary Offence Act 1981 and can result in imprisonment or a fine.
Remove the graffiti
A typical tagger repeats their scrawl as many times as possible to advertise to other taggers for recognition and status. If graffiti is removed quickly, the taggers are denied their glory.
Keep some paint handy and simply paint over any tags that do appear. If you do suffer repeated graffiti, be persistent. If need be just paint a patch over the tagged area rather than repainting the whole wall or fence until the graffiti has stopped for an extended period.
When your property has been tagged, remove the graffiti as soon as possible – preferably within 24 hours. Some councils provide graffiti removal services, so it is worth contacting them to see what assistance is available in your area.
If you are removing graffiti for the first time, try different methods on a small area first to ensure you are not causing more damage. Try, in this order:
• A detergent, such as dishwashing liquid.
• A solvent such as paint thinner, methylated spirits, oven cleaner or branded graffiti removal products.
• If graffiti has been painted over trees, rub the damaged areas with baking soda and rinse off thoroughly with water.
The chemicals in graffiti removal products can be hazardous, so always wear protective clothing, including a mask.
Rid an unpainted wall or fence of graffiti by sanding or waterblasting. Waterblasting is very effective on unpainted surfaces. The smoother the surface the more easily it can be cleaned.
On unsealed porous surfaces such as brick, concrete and unpolished stone, even complete removal of graffiti on the surface still leaves behind its indelible message. Generally a painted wall is easier to keep graffiti free because any further tags can simply be painted over in the same colour as the original.
Where possible paint walls or fences in dark colours – colours that will cover in one coat, such as brown and green, are most effective but may not be suitable for some surfaces.
Protect your school
Tagging tends to escalate whenever it is not promptly removed. Remember, taggers love to add their mark to existing graffiti.
If your school is continuously being hit there are some steps you can take to help prevent tagging.
Plant shrubs or a tree against walls and fences exposed to tagging or plant climbing shrubs or hedges. Species with prickles provide additional protection.
If your street front boundary comprises an unbroken surface that may appeal to taggers, consider coating it with an anti-graffiti system. Once cured, it is possible to quickly clean away graffiti without damaging the paint finish.
Don’t throw out any unused paint from school maintenance programmes: keep a small pot of each colour and a brush handy for quick touchups if needed.
Do an informal audit of your school. Can people jump on your rubbish bin and onto the roof? Is there a dark wall that doesn’t face the street and is poorly lit? Are there bins or bushes that might provide visual shelter for taggers while they graffiti? The possibility of being caught on film is a good deterrent against tagging. Installing video surveillance cameras or security lights in graffiti-prone areas can be worthwhile. Lights with motion sensors are a popular choice as they only activate when a person approaches.
If the school plans to hire a mini skip bin, request that you receive only those that are graffiti free.
Build community resources
Co-ordinating a graffiti awareness campaign at your school and in the community can help to deter tagging, especially if you develop initiatives to protect areas targeted by taggers. For example, having a quantity of communal graffiti covering paint for all to use can be worthwhile and you could also consider painting a mural on a communal area being targeted – this often works to deter graffiti and can be a very positive community project.
Remember, the paints, aerosols and marker pens used for graffiti are often acquired by illegal means and are most often stored in the vandal’s bedroom. Regularly remind parents to be alert to any unusual number of aerosol spray cans or marker pens in their children’s possession.
It can also be useful to get the school students involved.
Volunteer to adopt a spot – bus shelter, walkway, alleyway, just about anything that attracts graffiti, and keep it graffiti free, or encourage students to help the elderly or disabled who have had their property tagged to clean it up or paint over it.
Remember, a strong response against graffiti sends a clear message to those involved that it won’t be tolerated.
Be proactive and keep your school clean of graffiti. Involve your students so that controlling the graffiti becomes the responsibility of all students.