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Graffiti fighters team up in the Grove

New energy, new faces, new cash could help combat top-ranked problem


    It was a twisted case of perfect timing.

On April 16, the same night Allyn Clark testified to Forest Grove city councilors about the need for money to start a graffiti-fighting program, someone spray-painted profanities on one of Clark’s Forest Grove properties.

It was Clark’s first experience of being victimized by graffiti.

His was one of 63 graffiti cases reported to Forest Grove Police so far this year. At that rate, 2013 will easily surpass last year’s total of 104 incidents and the 2011 total of 72.

Clark quickly painted over the graffiti on his own property. But as a member of the city’s Public Safety Advisory Commission (PSAC), Clark is helping launch a graffiti-response team that will erase and discourage tagging citywide.

The effort is two-pronged. To start with, the police department's proposed budget for next fiscal year includes funding for a full-time code-enforcement officer, to replace a half-time position that has been vacant since last summer.

“This is hot off the press,” said Capt. Mike Herb, who cited a 2012 Citizen Attitude Survey that put graffiti — with 45 percent of the vote — at the top of a list of eight possible public-safety improvements residents would like to see in downtown Forest Grove.

“We are doing our best to prioritize efforts in this direction,” Herb said.

In addition to handling abandoned vehicles, parking violations and other problems, the code-enforcement officer — if approved — would handle the entire graffiti-abatement process, Herb said. Previously, graffiti records were handled by multiple people.

The officer will take reports and photos of new graffiti; notify property owners of the crime (if reported by someone else) and of their responsibility to remove the graffiti within 10 days; check to see whether they can meet that requirement and, if not, note the reason on the report.

    At this point, the next addition to the city’s graffiti-fighting team would come into play. A volunteer “Graffiti Abatement Coalition” is being organized to paint over graffiti in those cases where homeowners can’t, due to illness, age, financial struggles or other circumstances.

The team represents the dovetailing of two separate efforts. First, Police Chief Janie Schutz called for volunteers to help combat graffiti after a sudden rash of tagging began sweeping through Forest Grove in January.

About 20 people responded, offering to help with cleanup and monitor the town for graffiti strikes, said Mike Bernhardt, volunteer coordinator for the department.

At the same time, graffiti was a hot topic with PSAC.

When commission members learned the city council had opened its annual application process for Community Enhancement grants to Forest Grove nonprofits, they decided to create a graffiti-cleanup nonprofit and apply for a grant.

They haven’t formed the nonprofit yet, said Bernhardt, a PSAC member. But the city can still set aside money for paint, he said, or for some sort of volunteer “uniform,” whether it’s an oversize T-shirt to protect volunteers’ clothing from paint splatter, or a reflective safety vest with “Volunteer” stamped on the back, he said.

Bernhardt can’t guess how many people will ask for help — or how many will really need it. The cleanup crew doesn’t yet have any formal method for screening out those who might just want to take advantage of free paint and labor.

But Bernhardt never saw that happen in other cities where he's been involved in such cleanup programs. He doesn't think it will be a problem here.

During a meeting last week at the police department, Bernhardt said, he followed up on two reports of tagged properties that needed cleaning, “and the owners of those two properties had already taken care of the graffiti.”




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