Community fights back against graffiti

Great Northwest HOA share keys to success in fight to wipe out graffiti

SAN ANTONIO – Graffiti is a big problem for several communities across the city of San Antonio and it was recently designated as one of five crimes affecting quality of life.

As part of San Antonio Police Chief William McManus' Strategic Plan Initiative for 2014, SAPD formed a graffiti task force and started a pilot program to address graffiti problems in the largest home owners association in the city, Great Northwest HOA.

Volunteer Bill McDonough is one of the Great Northwest residents who are on the front lines in the fight to wipe out graffiti. He said residents began noticing an increase in graffiti about eight years ago.

"You got all kinds of tags. You got crew tags, gang tags and then just the creative artists wanting to express themselves," McDonough said.

At first the graffiti was found on businesses and around parks and schools, but then it started creeping into residential areas.

"Then it got into the neighborhoods, so we wanted to do something about it at that point," McDonough said. "We were getting 60-plus tags in a week. Now we don't get anywhere close to that. If we get 10 or 15, that's really high for us."

An aggressive campaign to wipe out graffiti has greatly reduced the amount of illegal street art in the community. It started with groups volunteering to cover up graffiti with paint supplied by the city but then evolved into a neighborhood watch.

Volunteers reached out to SAPD and started a "citizens on patrol" program, focusing their patrols in areas where tagging was a problem. Officers taught the volunteers to observe and report and eventually led to the identification of 270 individual tag names, resulting in the identification of 83 taggers.

When it comes to fighting graffiti, timing is key. Volunteers try to cover up any graffiti they find within 24 hours of it being located.

"You come to our neighborhood and you tag, we can drive by and in two minutes take care of it," McDonough said. "So when you wake up in the morning, that tagger who's been bragging about his tagging, it's gone. They're spending money to buy spray paint and if they can't brag and can't see it, why do it?"

With the help of SAPD's San Antonio Fear Free Environment officers, the program has been a big success. The officers don't just track the names and look for taggers, they also get involved in cleaning up the graffiti with special chemicals and a donated power washer.

"They've been out here with several of the other SAFFE officers, cleaning up and down this street when it's been heavily tagged for eight hours," Connie Stallings, a volunteer, said. "I can't tell you how appreciated they are in our community."

The graffiti abatement program has been so successful, McDonough is now sharing his secrets with other HOAs, but he still has plenty of work to do in his own neighborhood.

"We've come a long way," McDonough said. "It's not gone. It's always going to be with us, but we're always going to work it."

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