Friday, June 19, 2009

Wasting taxpayer dollars

The Governor insists that cities waste money needlessly. That is certainly true in Minneapolis. Graffiti is but one example.

According to the City of Minneapolis website (Graffiti Cleanup page), residents endured 8,428 incidents of graffiti in 2007. That number increased 69% in 2008, to 14,276.

The City Attorney admits that prosecution for graffiti crimes is rare. "We know that the number of cases presented to our Office ... are just a very small percentage of the total number of incidents of graffiti."[1] Why? City policy makes graffiti vandalism a game of Hide-n-Seek, for which the City Attorney is ill equipped. Out of sight, out of mind.

Most vandals know how to play the game, and how to remain outside the reach of the law. With no accountability for bad behavior, graffiti multiplies. Proof is in the numbers.

Graffiti cleanup "costs the city and its property owners $2.5 million annually."[2] Those are taxpayer dollars, i.e., total cost to the taxpayers. Policies that rely solely on taxpayer dollars to paint over vandalism do not solve the problem. Quite the contrary, such policies enable bad behavior. What's needed is a rule of law that makes vandals account for harm done.

A simple solution does exist. Allow some graffiti acts to be treated not as a crime but as an offense, much like a parking ticket. Then, process those acts in an informal hearing. Kids appear in Juvenile Courts with a parent, where records are never public. Adults appear in a civil proceeding, where records are public. Either way, Restorative Justice programs are an option.

Current policies on graffiti merely prove the Governor's point. A simple change in City policy can decrease graffiti incidents by 80%, within only a few years. A good starting point, then, in the budget battle with the Governor is to simply stop pampering vandals.

The Graffiti Task Force
of the Lyndale neighborhood
Minneapolis, Minnesota USA

[1] Susan L. Segal, Minneapolis City Attorney. Email to Mayor and Council, 11 March 2009

[2] Tom Horgen. "Leaving their mark across the metro," Star Tribune, 14 Oct. 2006, p. A8

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