Although minimal, compared to cities similar in size, Orange County was seeing an increase in graffiti vandalism. As the department’s Gang Unit Coordinator, in 2007, Allen informed me of the Chief’s directive to begin developing this initiative.
The Orange County Corrections Department prides itself in being a model for others to look to for leadership and this initiative would be unique in the since that many communities throughout the United States do not recognize the importance of having a graffiti removal program.
Graffiti, if not removed immediately, will only proliferate and eventually lead to the decrease in the quality of life within the affected community and most see graffiti as a minimal issue that has no relevance to the "significant" problems facing the community. What is overlooked more times than not is that it’s the “insignificant” things that if ignored can eventually be the root cause for a much more serious problem in the future or what is known as the "broken windows" theory.
The “Broken Windows” Theory goes into the signaling effect of urban disorder and vandalism on additional crime and anti-social behavior. In short, if we pay attention to what most would consider insignificant and maintain the community in a well-ordered condition, you may prevent further vandalism as well as an escalation into more serious crimes.
Graffiti is loosely defined as the deliberate defacing of public or private property by way of writings, drawings or symbols without the consent of the property owner.
Graffiti is an act of vandalism and is described as a kind of urban decay. It is costly and destructive and places a significant burden on the local and state budgets, which ultimately impacts tax payers. According to the U.S. Department of Justice; “an estimated $12 billion a year is spent cleaning up graffiti in the United States.”
Graffiti can also generate fear of neighborhood crime and instability resulting in a genuine threat to the quality of life, incalculable economic losses to businesses and can lead to the general deterioration of the area in which you work and live.
Statistics show that graffiti lowers property values and sends a message that people are not concerned about the appearance or well being of their neighborhood. According to the National Association of Realtors, properties located in neighborhoods where there is graffiti vandalism lose 15% of their property value.
In recognizing the increase in graffiti and identifying the resources available to us through inmate labor, establishing a graffiti removal program would be both proactive and a model initiative that would benefit the community.
At that time, the Orange County Code Enforcement Division coordinated the county’s graffiti removal efforts and Orange County Roads and Drainage Division provided the personnel, paint and supplies. It was later said, due to using their staff and contractors; graffiti was costing the county “a fortune.” After several meetings with Code Enforcement and Roads and Drainage, a partnership was forged, a plan was in place and protocols were developed.
The first location was on Laxton Road in the Wetherbee Estates subdivision where there had been graffiti reported on the street and sidewalk.
Within 24-hours, the site was photographed to determine if the graffiti was gang-related and an Inmate Worker Crew was scheduled to remove the graffiti. With that first successful removal, the Graffiti Removal Program was operational.
With the objective being to eliminate graffiti within Orange County, we named the initiative the "Gang Graffiti Eradication Program." This too was unique as most programs use the word “abatement,” which means to “reduce” or “decrease” so the more appropriate word “eradicate” was chosen, which means to “get rid of.”
The 311 Call Center would be the public’s avenue to report the graffiti and the call center would in turn assign the work order to the Orange County Corrections Gang Unit where we would determine if the location was on public property or private property and assign it to the appropriate office.
Due to public vs. private property concerns, it was determined that if it was on public property it would be assigned to our office and if it was on private property it would be assigned to Code Enforcement.
On January 9, 2008, the official on-site media event and demonstration of the program in action took place on Woodbury Road in east Orange County.
The last three years have been productive, as our tracking statistics have indicated a steady decline in graffiti removal work orders, since the program’s inception.
According to our records, the following statistics indicate the number of work orders assigned each year to either the Gang Graffiti Eradication Program or Code Enforcement.
Total Work Orders Assigned
2008: Corrections – 64 Code Enforcement – 79 Total – 142*
2009: Corrections – 43 Code Enforcement – 41 Total – 87
2010: Corrections – 35 Code Enforcement – 11 Total – 46
Total Reduction by Percentage
2008 – 2009 – Approximately 39% Reduction
2009 – 2010 – Approximately 47% Reduction
If we were to measure the reduction in work orders since the program started in January 2008 through December 2010, there has been an approximate 68% reduction in graffiti work orders.
There are many reasons why the Orange County Corrections Department should be proud of this program’s success but the most important is that we effectively reduced graffiti in Orange County and provided a valuable service to the community.