Tuesday, August 16, 2005

CD13 is UNTAGged!

The results are in. One year ago, Chief Bratton, Public Works Commissioner Cynthia Ruiz and I stood on the steps of Micheltorena Street School to kick off our ambitious anti-graffiti program for CD13, UNTAG: Uniting Neighborhoods To Abolish Graffiti. We were joined by dozens of neighborhood activists who were frustrated by seeing the same tags go up on the same walls week after week and wanted to do something about it. Together, we pledged that in two years time, we would lower the amount of graffiti in CD13 by 50%.

I had been inspired by the example of Ron Gonzales, the mayor of San Jose, CA, who had remarkable successes lowering graffiti in San Jose. However, when my staff spent a day driving CD13 block by block to count tags, we found densities of up to ten times the graffiti found in San Jose. Still, we had our base number (20,763 tags in the 13.13 square miles of CD13) and we knew what we had to do to bring that number down.

The key to our success was our recruitment of block captains. Starting with the thirty or so people who signed up at our kickoff, we reached 100 block captains, people who took responsibility for reporting any instances of graffiti to our paint-out crews, either by calling our office directly or by using 3-1-1. We also won funding for security cameras (PDF) to be placed in parks such as Lake Street Park, whose brand new skate park, recreation center and playground had all been marred by acts of vandalism in the first months of its young existence. A year after our initial benchmark count—a year in which constant, block-captain-driven graffiti reporting had substantially increased the workload for our paint-out crews, Central City Action Coalition and Hollywood Beautification Team—my staff and I drove the district once again, counting tags with the same methodology we had used a year before. The results were astonishing. The entire day turned up only 7,970 tags: a 62% reduction in only one year.

Jocelyn Geaga-Rosenthal, a block captain from Historic Filipinotown, captured it best at the press conference announcing the results when she said, "Fighting graffiti is like brushing your teeth. You have to do it every day to see results." She added: "But now my neighborhood has a great big smile." UNTAG did the job with neighbors' engagement, smart police work, and real care. Let's keep up the momentum of reducing graffiti. Won't you become a block captain (PDF) today?