Registered sales, locked displays, GPS-enabled cameras, prominent prosecution warnings … Is it a new gun-control law? No, just the new reality for tagger wannabes in Los Angeles, if a city councilman gets his way.
Councilman Dennis P. Zine has introduced three motions to strengthen the city’s hand against graffiti, which cost Los Angeles $7.1 million in abatement in 2010. The city removed 34.5 million square feet of graffiti from 625,000 locations last year, and Zine says he’s had it.
|Los Angeles spent $7.1 million last year to remove 34.5 million square feet of graffiti from 625,000 locations, a City Councilman says.|
“My goal is to create laws that will assist law enforcement and ultimately reduce the number of incidents of graffiti vandalism,” said Zine, a member of the Public Safety Committee. “In my role as a City Councilman and a LAPD Reserve Officer, I want to explore all avenues that will help eradicate graffiti from the streets of Los Angeles.”
Zine’s motions would:
• Require stores that sell spray paint, spray paint nozzles, paint pens and other “graffiti paraphernalia” to record and maintain records of each sale of these items;
• Require stores to post a sign on or near spray paint displays warning that graffiti vandalism is a crime punishable by fines and imprisonment and that the city has a reward program for the arrest and conviction of graffiti criminals; and
• Review and update the city’s Graffiti Tracker Program, which uses “camera images, generally from cell phones with global-positioning devices, to record and document graffiti.”
Critics call the proposals draconian and an invasion of privacy. ACLU staff attorney Peter Bibring told the L.A. Weekly that requiring IDs and addresses for paint would be unconstitutional and that such an ordinance would have a hard time surviving court challenges.
“They’re potentially making a suspect out of everyone who buys a certain kind of paint,” he told the paper. “You’re saying anybody who buys a particular kind of art material is singled out as a potential criminal suspect. Singling out a First Amendment activity is potentially a problem under the constitution.”
Although car-part sales, pawn shops and some other crime-attracting businesses require similar information tracking, paint products are affiliated so strongly with freedom of expression that singling them out for IDs would attract court challenges, Bibring says.
“The problem is where you start that inquiry with people who produce a particular kind of art that may very well be lawful,” he said.
A privacy amendment was added to the California constitution “specifically to prevent businesses and governments from collecting vast amounts of info about people’s lawful actions,” Bibring said.
There is a precedent for Zine’s proposals. The city of Portland, OR, has pursued a similar tack for years.
Portland’s Graffiti Abatement Program, which took effect in 2007, requires stores that sell paint and other “graffiti materials” to keep them inaccessible to buyers, obtain identification about the purchaser, and create a record of sale for each transaction. The records must be kept for two years.
In addition, members of the public are asked to photograph graffiti and submit the photos with a detailed report online.
Portland officials have not said how effective the program has been against graffiti, since the same materials are widely available online, but some say the measures have reduced shoplifting of paint and other graffiti supplies.
Zine, a well-known graffiti foe, has gone after graffiti before on several fronts, including:
• Passing an ordinance that holds parents of juvenile offers financially responsible for their crimes;
• Creating a graffiti database;
• Coordinating graffiti stings;
• Introducing a resolution demanding that an art-store chain refrain from “glorifying graffiti” in is “Artrageous” back-to-school ad campaign, which promotes a “Graffiti Starter Kit”; and
• Funding tagger probation compliance checks.
Zine’s new motions have all been referred to the Public Safety Committee.