Tagging in city falls to 3-year low

By Sandra Conchie

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Tauranga council is yet to win the war on graffiti, but the number of tags removed last year dropped to a three-year low.

The bad news is taggers are continuing to hit anywhere, anytime and are indiscriminate in their targets.

The Bay of Plenty Times found that out first hand on Sunday afternoon when the newspaper came across three taggers with spray cans caught in the act by two police officers defacing the back walls of the Tauranga Community Foodbank in Dive Crescent.

Foodbank chairman Mike Baker said he wasn't aware that the building had been tagged until the newspaper contacted him yesterday.

"It's quite disappointing that we are here to help people in need and yet we are still a target for taggers. But, unfortunately, we're hit about once a month, and it seems there is little we can do to prevent it.'

It costs Tauranga ratepayers on average $16,250 a month to remove tags, with 324 people apprehended last year - down about 25 per cent on the previous 12 months.

But the court-ordered reparation of about $10,000 a year was only a fraction of the $195,000 annual bill to paint over tags.

John Payne, Tauranga City Council's environmental compliance manager, said the local authority had a fixed-rate contract with its graffiti removal contractor.

"It is a better way of tackling the removal side of the problem. One of the major things you need to do is to quickly remove the graffiti as soon as you can, as it means far less recognition for the offender and, hopefully, stops them coming back," he said.

Mr Payne said that thanks to the efforts of council staff, 80 or so community volunteers and police the number of tags each year was reducing.

In total, 1177 tags were removed over the past five months, compared with 1237 tags for the same period last year. The total number of tags removed had dropped in the past three years from 3663 in the 2009/2010 financial year, to 2740 in 2010/2011 and 2329 in the 2011/2012 year.

That's a reduction of around 400 tags a year, he said.

Mr Payne said most of the taggers caught were underage and dealt with by the Youth Court or police Youth Aid section.

However, what was really disappointing was the number of 20s and 30s also caught tagging.

"At that age they should know a whole lot better," he said.

Mr Payne said taking a multi-pronged approach to the problem was the answer, including a zero tolerance stance, robust enforcement and crime prevention measures.

Mr Payne said the city's graffiti prevention officer, Jane Denton, had also made inroads in reducing the problem by working closely with those involved in graffiti, establishing several legal places for artists to apply their art to "legal walls".

She also works closely with police and other government agencies on enforcement.

Mr Payne said the council's photographic identity database of tags helped track down the culprits.

The council also enforced the age restriction on buying spray paint cans and the last sting operation carried out on retailers netted zero offenders, he said.

"But like buying alcohol, council is not naive to the fact that taggers were likely to be asking older people to obtain their cans."

Mr Payne said he was not able to say how many offenders were on council's photographic ID database but it would be in the hundreds, and many were well known to the council and to police.

"It's a real shame there has got to be people out there who aim to be as destructive as they can be."

Mr Payne said there were a number of legal walls around the city available for graffiti artists to use.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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