Rick Farmer doesn’t like it when he hears about graffiti in nearby Arlington Park.
And the president of the Alta Vista Neighborhood Association is perturbed when he sees someone has spray-painted the live oak trees that shade the playground and line the half-acre multiuse trail through the park.
“It’s really malicious, to me,” said Farmer. “It’s all about respect for the environment. It starts in your backyard.”
For the past year, neighbors fed up with the graffiti have cleaned the markings on trees, playground equipment and park tables throughout the 26-acre park.
Nan Gould, a neighborhood resident, first saw graffiti in the park when she took her nieces to the playground two years ago.
“Graffiti was on the trees and the playground,” Gould said. “There are still parts of the playground equipment that have spray paint on them.”
Gould said she was concerned because some of the spray paint looked like gang graffiti. “It makes it look trashy,” she said.
As far as crimes go, graffiti can seem like a small concern. Yet, it is a disconcerting sight to see, said Gould, who mentioned the “broken window theory,” a criminology theory that monitoring and preventing vandalism can prevent more violent crimes from occurring.
Farmer said sometimes the county, which maintains most city parks, will spot and remove graffiti, but neighbors have taken matters into their own hands and have been going out and cleaning much of the graffiti themselves.
Jim Wormley, Parks and Recreation supervisor with Sarasota County, said the county’s process is to submit a property-damage report and work order upon seeing graffiti, but county workers might not always see graffiti right away.
“If it has foul language, we’ll try to remove it right away,” said Wormley.
“We don’t welcome graffiti at any of our parks,” Wormley said. “The neighbors can let us know.”
Gould said she scrubbed some of trees with soap and water, a process that “kind of worked” but left discolored patches on the bark.
“It’s really just boredom,” said John Mangan, Arlington Park resident. “How do you get the (vandals) to do something constructive? I say give them a board and let them paint on it. We could have a contest every week.”
Several months ago, Farmer called City Commissioner Shannon Snyder, a former Sarasota County Sheriff’s deputy. In an interview last week with the Sarasota Observer, Snyder said he planned to walk the park to see how bad the graffiti is.
Snyder said it’s important to remove graffiti in public spaces as early as possible.
“If you don’t stay on it from a maintenance and law-enforcement standpoint, it gets worse and more expensive (to clean),” Snyder said. “It will grow.”
Cleaning the graffiti also “deprives the tagger of the recognition they would get,” Snyder said.
But cleaning spray paint or marker is a more difficult task on the oaks. Scraping the bark will damage the tree, and painting over it with black paint doesn’t improve the aesthetic situation, said Snyder, who as a deputy specialized in trying to prevent and remove graffiti.
“An artist can camouflage it (on trees),” Snyder said.
The artist would take colors that match the bark of an oak tree and paint over it, Snyder said. With natural erosion, the graffiti will disappear.
Farmer said he plans to talk to a neighbor, who is an artist, about camouflaging the graffiti.
A few trees in the park have some scrape marks where it appears previous graffiti was removed.
“Unfortunately there has never been too many foot patrols in the park,” Snyder said. “Having lived in the neighborhood my entire life, I can say (the graffiti) comes and goes.”