The Graffiti Eaters Approach to Graffiti Control, Theory on GRAFFITI Vandals

By Rod Mackenzie – Business Development Manager – The Graffiti Eaters, 26th of June 2006
Some Basic Statistics

Source Queensland Police

Most likely age of graffitist 15 to 24:- few over 30.
Most likely sex is male 85% only 15% female.
Increase over the last 25 years at 7% per year.
What is the route cause of Vandalism and Graffiti?

Source Rodney Mackenzie Business Development Manager: –
The Graffiti Eaters Pty Ltd.
Rod has spent 25 years working in the reduction of graffiti.
The Problem is Testosterone – the Male Hormone

This is a concept that you may find hard to agree with but give it some thought as it may be the answer to how you control Graffiti.

Graffiti is similar to any other form of vandalism and can be associated with other forms of anti-social behaviour, street racing and burnouts in cars.

The root cause is the same. Testosterone!

We need to go back to the days when males were the providers (hunters) and females the carers. Today most males enjoy the excitement of the hunt. For some it is fishing others shooting and for some chasing wild women.

Most males love the excitement of the adrenalin rush, which is nature’s way of increasing performance and protecting them. Adrenalin in the blood increases the senses and performance by increasing the heart rate and hence the blood to the mussels and brain.

Is it coincidental that the average age of graffitist is 15 to 24?

Around the Age of 15 (puberty) the Testosterone builds up in the male until around the age of 30 when it levels off and starts to reduce over the following years. 85% of Graffitists are male only 15% are female and females do have low levels of testosterone.

Most graffiti committed by females is in association with males. It does not give most females a thrill, in fact they wonder why males would bother to do graffiti. The fact is some graffitist get excitement from the risk of being caught. The majority derive success from the recognition of their tag bragging rights and the number of tags they can get up.They are out there trying to prove themselves to society as individuals, trying to be different and noticed. While this is a theory and it is dangerous to generalise it all makes good sense.

The public outrage increases their enjoyment and encourages them to do more. We know that as part of the graffiti adventure some graffitist do things with increased risk, like train surfing and tagging very dangerous places like roofs of moving trains, bridge faces over road ways and signs high in the air.

There are many different forms of graffiti from the idle writing on a school desk and messages left on toilet walls right up to the hardcore political statement graffiti. These are all the result of different motivations. When we look at the testosterone theory we are looking at the chemistry that causes us to react in a predetermined way, for most young people they do not understand why they feel the way they do.
So what does this tell us?

The testosterone theory tells us that we will never eradicate graffiti and that we should concentrate on managing and reducing graffiti incidences.
How then do we reduce Graffiti?

Apprehension and police intervention

The aspect of apprehension and charging through the courts very rarely happens. There are penalties in place in some states and fines of $1500 or three years maximum jail. Courts rarely impose high penalties in some cases, because they see repeat offenders turning to other crime like theft to pay fines. Police are then encouraged to use diversionary programs to take graffiti offenders off the streets.

This is fine for first offenders who are concerned about a conviction being recorded against their name, but for repeat offenders this has little or no affect. We have carried out successful programs with the Police which can remove offenders from the streets, but there is always some one else coming along behind them putting up graffiti. For the costs incurred by the community, the resulting effect on the problem is minimal.

Some organizations believe that press publicity will help reduce graffiti but in fact the reverse is the truth. Press may assist in getting the non graffitist local community behind a graffiti program, but in doing so can stir on the local graffiti crews. The quiet, coordinated, well organized approach is the way to go.

We have been involved in many campaigns with councils and other groups that have advertised, had news articles published and in most cases we have seen an increase in graffiti before any gains were made with the program.

Most graffitist know that graffiti is wrong but this does not stop them. In most cases it adds to the thrill. Removing graffiti quickly is the best known strategy we have at the moment. The Graffiti Eaters believe that maintaining an area graffiti free is the best approach and that is why we recommend our maintenance program. Regular patrols that seek out graffiti before our client even knows that the asset has graffiti is the most effective tool against graffiti, because the graffitist comes back for his recognition and it is gone. He soon becomes disinterested and goes some were else to play.

We have many examples of assets that the owners were unable to keep clean, and with in weeks of being placed on a Graffiti Eaters Maintenance Program the assets had greatly reduced incidences of graffiti. We currently have many assets maintained graffiti free by our Maintenance Programs. Examples of this would be shopping centres, highways, commercial buildings, council toilet blocks, sporting pavilions, office buildings, schools and railway stations that for many years were covered in graffiti and now with our program are graffiti free.
Quality of graffiti removal

When removing graffiti it is no good just obliterating the graffiti by over painting leaving patches or shadows. In fact the aim is always to remove the graffiti so that you would not know that there was ever graffiti there. How often have you seen a patch on the wall with new graffiti placed back in the centre of the patch? What happens here is that the graffitist is attracted to the patch.

He sees a challenge and places his tag on this patch in defiance of the attempt made to remove the original graffiti. We are aware of defence lawyers using the fact that the asset has previously been graffitied as a defence. They make the argument that the graffiti their client placed, had not in fact defaced the surface as damage had already been done. It is always better to return a substrate back to its original state where this is possible. A natural brick wall for example is less likely to be graffitied than a painted brick wall. If the wall is painted it is best to repaint the wall if the graffiti can not be removed in a very closely matched paint so that it doses not look like it has been repaired. Quality removal not only looks better it also reduces the incidences of graffiti.
Central reporting of graffiti

We believe that this is a good way to go and the best way to get the community involved, this enables graffiti to be identified and removed in an organized way.
Should graffiti be removed with in 24 hours?

Many people believe that graffiti should be removed with in 24 hours as this is the key factor in reducing graffiti. We believe that it should be removed quickly but does not necessarily need to be with in 24 hours, as in many cases this creates additional costs.
Does street art reduce graffiti?

When you look at street art there are two basic styles that are considered; graffiti murals and conventional murals.

The theory is that graffitist does not graffiti street art, they respect it. Some believe that you should allow graffiti style murals as this gives the graffitist the opportunity to express them selves with legal art. Our experience with street art is that you are better to put up conventional murals as they are respected by all quarters of the community and they do not attract graffiti. Graffiti style murals usually get small tags along the bottom, often by another graffitist (tagger) trying to take credit for the mural (piece). Graffiti style murals only encourage graffitist. Conventional street art does reduce graffiti.
Legal graffiti walls and sites

The idea of a legal graffiti wall is that the graffitist will put there graffiti up on the graffiti wall and not on surrounding areas. Our experience has found that this strategy does not work. The graffiti soon builds up and runs out onto other surrounding locations. Graffiti walls only encouraged more graffitist to come to the area to put up graffiti.
What should we do for our young males?

We should provide them with safe activities that give them the similar challenges and thrills that they gain from graffiti. Skate parks are fantastic. They provide our youth with challenges and an environment that allows them to get the thrills that pump the adrenaline around that body, while at the same time getting recognition from their peers. Other sporting activities also suit many young men and we are confident that sporting clubs play a large part of the solution. Areas that do not have organized sport and few sporting ground, tend to have larger incidences of graffiti and other anti-social behaviour.

An example of this is the Gold Coast in Queensland; the area was developed with a lot of water canals and few sporting grounds. They have a lot of small parks that are suitable for young children with there parents but are not big enough for teenagers to kick a football. This area now has some youth concerns. Further developments need to be more focused on sporting fields and not canals. Campbelltown in NSW has a lot of sports facilities and a large youth population. It also has significant graffiti concerns that would be much worse if it was not for the sporting facilities provided. The Graffiti Eaters is proud to be apart of the graffiti reduction strategy for these councils.

The challenge of combating graffiti vandalism is one social issue that governments do not have an unlimited budget to work with. It is therefore imperative that any tax payer money invested is cleverly targeted to achieve maximum benefit back to the tax payer. This will be achieved if the community sees graffiti being removed as soon as it is put in place and there is a sense or order and security in our streets. The message that graffiti is wrong has been well promoted. Those engaging in it know it is illegal, but with current court rulings and penalties the challenge and thrill far out ways any threat of conviction. Based on the Testosterone theory, apprehension and police intervention can assist in reducing graffiti, however has shown over the decades to be a very slow, costly exercise that fails to leave impression on the community of any success being yielded. A diversion for our youth into sporting activities or competitions that offer a thrill and a challenge with recognition among peers is very important. Combined with a programmed coordinated removal strategy is the only proven method long term to maintain assets graffiti free.

The Graffiti Eaters offer a service of underwriting the risk of graffiti vandalism under one of our maintenance programs which systematically manages the site and controls the incidences of graffiti. The opinions expressed in this paper are formed from working in the graffiti industry for over 25 years and are based on the trial and error of working on many graffiti reduction programs.