Yesterday I put up a post on a recent Register article about…well, I still don’t know what it was really about, but it had to do with graffiti in Fullerton. I noted somewhat acerbically that the authors, Townsend & Terrell, cited some cop from LA who worried about Fullerton’s “Art Scene” as somehow being a catalyst for graffiti!
Now let’s consider the rest of the piece. The title asks a question that is meant to be provocative, and it succeeds; but the article only dances around the topic from there on out. Hmm. Asking provocative questions then letting them dangle. Almost sounds like irresponsible bloggery to me.
First we note that only some buildings in the 600 block of Williamson are cited as typical of the sort of graffiti train riders see all the way to LA. And Deputy Thibodeaux is only concerned that Fullerton could become a “mecca” for taggery, thus echoing the tentative nature of the headline.
A city employee is invited to comment on the situation:
Fullerton Maintenance Services Manager Bob Savage said he’s seen the square footage of graffiti the city paints over increase sevenfold in the last 15 years. (A link. To a 2006 article that includes a very interesting Anaheim quotation: Community Preservation Manager Bill Sell said there’s no indication that graffiti is increasing, but the city is tracking it more closely.)
“When I first started 15 or 16 years ago, I was doing about 100,000 square feet (per year),” Savage said. “Now, I’m up to about 700,000.”
That sure sounds impressive. But could it be that Mr. Savage’s four man crew has grown and is now just doing a more thorough job, or is responding to faster response times? It’s possible. Hard to tell.
As to the actual statistics we still don’t really know much since the article only cites County-wide convictions for vandalism, not just graffiti: 85 in 2000, 321, in 2009. In 2010 the numbers seem to be going down. No data for Fullerton, no useful statistics at all to support some existing or impending apocalyptic wave; just a story from a property manager along the train tracks where tagging is likely always high.
Back to Mr. Thibodeaux, who starts talking tough about resolving a problem that has still not been established. Mr. T. breaks out this scary screamer:
“Technically, these crews fall under the Street Terrorism Protection Act,” Thibodeaux said.
Oh boy! Now we have another “War” on our hands!
Of course this is an age-old ploy as the authors try to fool us into thinking some sort of case has been made and now opinions for a solution must be solicited. But then they foul up their own strategy by inviting comment from an old pal of ours, as the story takes an abrupt turn:
Fullerton Police Sgt. Andrew Goodrich said that Fullerton isn’t known to have a big problem with graffiti, and most of the tags that maintenance services covers up are black scrawls, often connected with street gangs. The vandal’s purpose is the message, not any artistry in the tag itself, he said.
Now we have one cop talking about tagging crews and another who says the real problem is gang markings and suggests that maybe Fullerton isn’t in any way unique. What a cluster. And Mr. Savage, it turns out, agrees that most of the graffiti is “nuisance stuff,” not “art” although the distinction is probably lost on the property owner who has to pay to get it removed. Parenthetically we note that Savage actually admires “street art”:
“Some of it is just beautiful artistry, that’s all there is to it,” he said.
The article stumbles toward a blurry finish line by stubbornly clinging to the still unsubstantiated fact that graffiti is on the rise in Fullerton. Evidence that it is seemingly on the decline in Placentia, as well as in cash laid out for graffiti removal by the OCTA is posited as if to somehow indirectly support the thesis that there is a peculiar graffiti problem in Fullerton:
Although graffiti is still a significant problem in nearby Placentia, incidents have dropped over the last five years, with graffiti reports in the city shrinking by more than 40 percent between 2006 and 2010, according to police department records.
Most Orange County cities have started using the Orange County Sheriff Department’s online tracking system to share and track graffiti incidents, helping law enforcement officials in OC and neighboring counties identify and prosecute tagging crews. The collaboration, which includes Fullerton, is helping to reduce graffiti in the county, said Ramin Aminloo, senior developer for the sheriff’s department.
Since the Tracking Automated and Graffiti Reporting System’s implementation three years ago, the amount of cash shelled out by the Orange County Transportation Authority to clean up graffiti has dropped from $283,000 in 2007 to less than $170,000 in 2009, according to the sheriff’s department.
Hmm. If we accept the premise of our authors, we are now inevitably forced to ask: is the anti-graffiti collaboration really failing in Fullerton? But of course local reporters are not taught to mention embarrassing things like failure, and so the possibility is not even addressed in the article – which should really be the most significant part of the story if graffiti actually is on a precipitous rise here.
The piece mercifully ends with the obligatory interview with a vandal and a former vandal to get their perspective, and a posting of the city’s hotline.
At least by the end of this hodge-podge of logic and confusion nobody is blaming Fullerton students and artists for urban social pathology.