The city wants to double fines for graffiti violations in a move being pitched as a way to help cut down on vandalism.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel will introduce a plan at Wednesday’s City Council meeting to increase the fine for a first-time graffiti offender from $750 to $1,500. Repeat offenses would raise the cost to as high as $2,500.
It's unclear, however, whether people scrawling gang signs or tags on garages and walls with spray paint or markers would think twice because the potential cost went up. Chicago police reported making 528 arrests last year for “criminal defacement of property with paint,” according to department spokesman Martin Maloney. City officials did not respond to requests for the amount of money that was actually paid by those arrested for such violations.
Emanuel has changed his stance on graffiti since taking office. He initially targeted the city's graffiti removal program, a favorite of predecessor Richard M. Daley, for a budget reduction as part of his 2012 city spending plan. But Emanuel backed off that stance when aldermen complained.
Graffiti removal is the kind of quality-of-life service residents appreciate, and aldermen let the new mayor know their constituents would not like it if spray-painted gang signs went unaddressed for longer periods of time after Daley made removing it a priority.
Emanuel then increased graffiti removal spending as part of the 2014 budget, setting aside $1 million for the Department of Streets and Sanitation to add two more removal teams and increase the number of graffiti blaster trucks.
The city received 58,509 requests from residents and aldermen to remove graffiti last year, according to Molly Poppe, spokeswoman for city Streets and Sanitation. City crews removed 137,466 pieces of graffiti in 2013, she said.
The proposal also would increase fines for any person caught vandalizing public property from $500 to up to $1,000.
Poppe said the new higher fines are not meant to cover the additional graffiti removal cost of the additional crews and trucks. “The fines for graffiti have not been increased for nearly a decade, however the increase is not expected to offset the additional investments in graffiti removal,” Poppe said in an email. “Increasing fines will further deter future graffiti artists.”
The graffiti announcement came on a day city Inspector General Joseph Ferguson released an audit critical of Streets and Sanitation’s record-keeping on free garbage pickup. The report focused on multi-unit buildings in the city that are “grandfathered in” for free garbage pick-up and not-for-profit organizations that also are eligible for the free service. According to Ferguson’s report, the city spends about $6.5 million per year on the free services, but the program is “inefficient and ineffective.”
Ferguson found that while the city maintains a list of 1,393 not-for-profits that get free garbage pick-up, there is no provision for such service in the municipal code.
The city keeps a separate list allowing residential buildings of five or more units to keep getting city garbage pick-up if they were getting the service in 1990. Other large multi-unit buildings are required to pay for their trash removal. But Ferguson said the list of “grandfathered” buildings is outdated. The Emanuel administration is working with the inspector general’s office to clean up the program, Ferguson said.
Twitter @_johnbyrneCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun