Portland’s new strategy to beat graffiti

The plan includes a switch to proactive, patrol-style cleanup

Mayor Ted Wheeler cleans up graffiti in Portland, June 19, 2017 (KOIN)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Mayor Ted Wheeler ceremonially painted over graffiti in the Lents neighborhood of Portland Monday, as he announced the city’s new strategy for tackling tagging in the city.

The plan includes an additional $440,000 in the city budget for graffiti abatement, and a switch to proactive, patrol-style cleanup rather than relying completely on filed complaints.

The city will use the money to contract companies like Graffiti Removal Services, who will scour neighborhoods for graffiti, then immediately remove or paint over the tags after receiving permission from property owners.

“With this proactive approach, it’s really going to allow us to increase our square footage of removals,” said Paul Watts, who owns GRS. “We’ll be able to do 2, maybe 3 times as much removal in the city of Portland.”

Hateful graffiti was painted onto the walls and doors of the Trinity Lutheran Church and School in NE Portland on April 22, 2017. (KOIN)
Hateful graffiti was painted onto the walls and doors of the Trinity Lutheran Church and School in NE Portland on April 22, 2017. (KOIN)

The old system of calling the graffiti hotline or reporting tagging online will remain in place, but Watts said the added patrol method will be more efficient.

“We’re actively going out there and removing from block to block to block to block,” he said. “If we’re waiting for people to report graffiti, we’re waiting maybe 2, 3, 4 weeks before it goes through the system.”

City spokesman David Austin said the program will still rely on neighbors being willing to take some matters into their own hands – not simply waiting for the city to come around and take care of it – especially in problem areas.

Protesters spray painted graffiti in Pioneer Courthouse Square a day after Trump’s election, November 9, 2016. (KOIN)

“If we spend all of this money going and cleaning the same places all the time, without community involvement, we’re going to run out of money really fast,” said Austin. “The city’s never going to turn its back on neighborhoods that call for help, but we have to work on this together.”

Wheeler said the new strategy is derived from those used in other major cities, where officials from the Office of Neighborhood Involvement traveled for research.

“They recently visited both Baltimore and Philadelphia and they concluded that this proactive approach is the right strategy,” said Wheeler. “It’s the best bang for the buck. It’s also the most effective in terms of discouraging future tagging, graffiti.”

Wheeler said the effort is part of a broader plan to increase focus on improving livability in Portland – a plan that also includes targeting litter, needles, and abandoned homes and RVs. That plan formed in part because of a town hall meeting the city council held in Lents in April, according to Wheeler.

“We heard loudly and clearly from people particularly in the Lents neighborhood but broadly in east Portland that they’re very concerned about the increased tagging that they’re seeing,” he said. “We’re listening to what the community is telling us.”