Seattle City Council member Tim Burgess, who called for a graffiti audit earlier this year, says he intends to introduce a bill to widen the scope of what qualifies as graffiti under the city’s criminal code and beef up financial penalties for offenders. First, the bill would criminalize putting unwanted stickers on public or private property (currently the property destruction law applies to anyone who "writes, paints or draws any inscription, figure or mark"). Second, the bill would allow courts to collect more restitution from offenders on behalf of property owners.
“They are really minor tweaks,” Burgess says. He says the council eschewed more severe measures, such as penalizing parents or banning spray paint, because "they sound good but there is no evidence that they make a difference on graffiti."
Both components of the bill are derived from recommendations in the graffiti audit (.pdf), requested by Burgess and Council Member Tom Rasmussen, which found 556 examples of graffiti in the city but discovered “no instances of what could be called artistic tagging.” The report found that stickers were the most prevalent form of graffiti in the city and should be included in the property destruction law.
Earlier this year, the council also attempted to mitigate graffiti cropping up on the green automated parking meters by switching one position from Seattle Public Utilities to the Seattle Department of Transportation, which maintains the pay stations.
Under the city's graffiti law, offenders may be charged with a gross misdemeanor, which carries up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine. The bill expanding that law will likely be introduced in the first quarter of 2011, says Burgess.