Taggers have trashed initiatives aimed at preventing graffiti, saying it just encourages them to keep vandalising private and public spaces.

New research aimed at understanding offender motivation may have implications for policy-makers and other agencies.

The $25,000 study, titled Tagging and Graffiti: Attitudes and Experiences of Young New Zealanders and released to the Herald under the Official Information Act, was carried out by three lecturers in Victoria University's Institute of Criminology and commissioned by the Ministry of Justice.

More than 700 people - aged from under 14 up to 40 - responded and focus groups were held around the country.

Of those interviewed, 42.5 per cent either tagged or had done so at some point.

Several councils have policies in place to remove graffiti within 24 hours of a site being vandalised.

But only 3.4 per cent of taggers and 3 per cent of "sometimes taggers" said quick removal was a reason to stop.

Respondents were given options on what was likely to make them stop. These included: being caught, apprehension by police, family disapproval or friends not liking what they were doing.

The most common response was that none of the strategies would lead them to stop (46.9 per cent of taggers and 64.4 per cent of "sometimes" taggers) followed by police apprehension (20.3 per cent of taggers and 23.9 per cent of "sometimes" taggers).

The illegality of graffiti only made it more attractive to most respondents.

Eradication programmes were based on the assumption the presence of graffiti encouraged imitative behaviour, the researchers said. But the removal effectively contested control over territory, which heightened the risks and challenges that attracted taggers in the first place.

Stronger punishments only added to the attraction and would probably elevate their status among their peers.

One respondent said: "If you succeed and go to jail you will be seen as a hero among that group or among your friends or whatever."

Taggers also trashed a Wellington police initiative that made taggers wear pink vests while on community work sentences cleaning up local graffiti.

Several survey respondents said the vests were a like a "badge of honour".

One explained, "Cos if you have one of those jackets and you are scrubbing off a 'mean as' piece, that is fame."

Suggestions to stop graffiti included allocating sites where artists could tag freely.

There was also evidence that taggers did not write on spots where other artists had painted murals in their town.

The survey was part of the Stop Tagging Our Place Strategy (STOP Strategy) launched in September last year to provide a framework for reducing graffiti in New Zealand following the passing of the Summary Offences (Tagging and Graffiti Vandalism) Amendment Act in June 2008.

The act prohibits the sale of canned spray paint to people younger than 18 and introduces community-based sentences for taggers.

The ministry's acting general manager of crime prevention and criminal justice, Malcolm Luey, said the report was still to undergo a final peer review process so the information was subject to change.

He said it was the first research document to provide a New Zealand context on graffiti and might inform future policy work.

* Taggers

81.9 per cent agreed or strongly agreed graffiti should be tolerated in some circumstances and 12.2 per cent felt it was a bad thing in all cases.

22.9 per cent said they strongly agreed the illegality of it made it more attractive.

Only 3.4 per cent of regular and 3 per cent of "sometimes" taggers said quick removal of graffiti was a reason to stop.

Public spaces such as alleyways, bus shelters and power boxes were the most common targets for graffiti, followed by public buildings such as schools, private residences, waste grounds and private businesses.

Most taggers called their work "graffiti art", followed by tagging, stylised writing, political expression and vandalism.

The main reason for tagging was for creative expression (47.2 per cent). Only 1.9 per cent said it was so they could damage something and 1.6 per cent for the sense of danger.

Almost 70 per cent of taggers said they would graffiti again and 16 per cent said they might do again.