Mistaken 'sign' designation delays graffiti removal

The problem:

Graffiti on a community sign in Northeast Baltimore remained despite a request to 311 for removal.

The back story:

Robert Walshe has been paying attention to graffiti lately.


As coordinator of the North East Citizens on Patrol, he's been riding around his Waltherson neighborhood with volunteers such as Louise Harmony. Together, they spotted several graffiti incidents and reported them to Baltimore's 311 service online in June.

The graffiti had been there for weeks, but Walshe noted that the 311 site said the markings would be removed within three days.


He later used the 311 confirmation numbers to get an update and was surprised to discover that one of their requests, graffiti on the west side of a townhouse community sign on Southern Avenue, had been listed as "closed." It was classified as a "bridge/traffic sign" and referred to the city Department of Transportation on June 30.

"Not quite sure what that means, but the graffiti is still there," he wrote to Watchdog in an e-mail.

It meant a mistake, said Robert Murrow, spokesman for Baltimore's Department of Public Works. A worker in DPW's bureau of solid waste checked out the graffiti complaint and reported back to the division chief that it was on a sign. The word "sign" usually denotes "traffic sign," so the division chief called the transportation agency, Murrow said.

"However, unbeknownst to us, it was not a traffic sign but a private sign," he said. DPW workers cannot just go onto someone's property and remove graffiti - they must first seek permission from the property owner. Usually, owners agree to accept the help.

"I know they don't like graffiti on their property any more than we like it on public property," he said. "They're just as anxious to get rid of that stuff as we are."

That was the case in this situation. DPW staff have removed the offending green spray paint, the spokesman said.

If the owner doesn't grant permission, then the problem is referred to code enforcement in Baltimore's Department of Housing and Community Development, according to Murrow. Transportation workers handle graffiti on traffic signs because "signs have to be clearly legible for motorists," Murrow said. "That's a safety factor right there."

Sometimes, the location of graffiti makes it impossible for DPW staff to remove.


"A vandal will risk life and limb to get to an out-of-the-way place to put his tag," Murrow said. "We can't put workers in dangerous situations to remove it."

But when they can remove graffiti, "it's just one of those things that makes the city a lot better," he said.

Who can fix this:

Steve Sharkey, division chief, Baltimore Department of Public Works Bureau of Solid Waste, 410-396-1300. City residents should call 311 or go online at to report problems.