A resident noted an increase in graffiti downtown, but city officials say the issue tends to be cyclical.
On June 25, downtown resident Greg Lamb sent city commissioners photos of four properties in the heart of the city marked with the same distinct spray-painted tag.
At least three of vandalized surfaces were contained within one block, ranging from Ringling Boulevard and Pineapple Avenue to Palm Avenue and McAnsh Square. Lamb thought the graffiti was a relatively new phenomenon in the area, and he was hoping to learn what steps the city took to address the issue when it arose.
Lamb’s instinct that there was more graffiti than he was accustomed to seeing had some basis in fact. City staff said there was an increase in those acts of vandalism during the month of July — twice as many incidents as there had been in June.
As it turns out, the city does have a process for documenting and mitigating vandalism once it gets reported. Public Works Director Doug Jeffcoat said staff attempts to remove graffiti within at least 48 hours of learning about it, if not 24. Although there’s not much the city can do to proactively prevent a determined vandal from making their mark, Jeffcoat said staff is intent on cleaning up the scene as soon as possible.
“Our goal is to try to get it out of the area and get it taken care of,” Jeffcoat said.
Although there has been a monthly increase in incidents from June to July, that doesn’t mean there’s a vandalism epidemic in Sarasota. Compared to the same time last year, the city has seen nine more service requests for graffiti clean-up in 2018. In evaluating the numbers within a smaller window, one prolific spray-painter can make a massive difference. Viewed over a longer time, however, things tend to balance out
“What we see in regard to this is that it’s kind of cyclical,” Jeffcoat said. “If you look at the images and the pictures, it’s definitely the same individual who’s done that. That’s kind of how we see things happen.”
In more ways than one, the speed of the graffiti removal process depends on where the vandalism occurred. The city can only send its crews to clean up public property. If the damage is on private property, code enforcement staff can notify the property owner and tell them they need to have the graffiti removed, but that process can take longer.
Staff also uses different strategies for cleaning up different materials and different surfaces. In general, Jeffcoat said, there are a variety of chemicals available that can effectively remove whatever is used to make the graffiti. There are some exceptions: If the front of a stop sign is spray-painted, the city will generally just replace the sign, because the chemicals reduce the reflective quality of the surface.
The city teams up with the Sarasota Police Department on enforcement. The department said it hasn’t observed any wave of vandalism in the heart of the city. So far this year, three cases involving graffiti have occurred downtown.
More frequently, city staff ends up fielding reports regarding graffiti. Jeffcoat encouraged residents to keep the requests coming, stating an attentive public can help officials better address any acts of vandalism that may have occurred in Sarasota.
“When they see it, report it, so we can respond to it,” Jeffcoat said.