Portland considers stiff fines for graffiti violations

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PORTLAND — The city could adopt an ordinance that would place stiff fines on property owners who fail to remove graffiti in a timely manner, and on people caught with “graffiti implements.”

The City Council’s Public Safety Committee is also considering eliminating the “free wall” along the East End path, in an effort to curb what some city officials and business owners see as an ever-growing problem.

The “free wall” is a concrete stretch next to the wastewater treatment plant that has long been a legal place for people to spray paint.

“Research shows designated graffiti walls do not help (stop illegal graffiti),” said Councilor Ed Suslovic, chairman of the Public Safety Committee. Suslovic said the city’s free wall has encouraged “vandals” to spray paint the city’s informational signs further down the path, rendering them unreadable.

Suslovic said he expected the ordinance would also take the Asylum’s graffiti wall along Free Street out of commission.

“The parking garage next door to that has been vandalized over and over,” said Suslovic.

“Some view it as art,” he said. “These are not artists, they are vandals.”

The proposed ordinance would give property owners 10 days to remove graffiti from their property. Similar to an ordinance South Portland created a few years ago, it would be the responsibility of private property owners to keep their buildings, walls and other sprayable surfaces graffiti-free.

The ordinance was proposed by the citizen advisory board to the police department and developed with the help of Neighborhood Prosecutor Trish McAllister.

People in possession of “graffiti implements” under suspicious circumstances – for example within 50 feet of an underpass or in a park – can be fined $500 and also made to do community service. Graffiti implements includes chalk, according to the draft ordinance.

Selling graffiti implements to minors would also be punishable; and parents of minors who possess a graffiti tool could also be brought to task through fines.

Property owners who are given a notice by police to remove graffiti and fail to do so would be fined upwards of $250.

Suslovic said the removal ordinance will take into account inclement weather, and not be enforced between January and April.

“The goal is not to punish property owners,” Suslovic said. He said prompt and consistent removal of graffiti has been shown to be the most effective way to curb the practice.

He also said that business owners who commission artists to create murals with spray paint would be exempt from the ordinance.

The Public Safety Committee was scheduled to begin discussing the proposed ordinance March 8 at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall, which is after The Forecaster deadline. The committee is expected to continue discussions at its April 13 meeting. Any proposed ordinance would have to go before the full City Council for approval.

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or kbucklin@theforecaster.net