Graffiti Complaints Are Down City-Wide, but The City's Taking Longer to Clean It Up

The early 1970s through the late 1980s are commonly regarded as the “golden years of graffiti,” a time when murals, tags, and spray-painted designs were ubiquitous in the city—a time before anti-graffiti task forces scrubbed clean the layers of Krylon.

The war against graffiti may be slowly working as the number of graffiti complaints citywide have declined, according to an Independent Budget Office report out this week examining Department of Sanitation data over the last five fiscal years.

There were 13,415 complaints in 2016, down from 15,393 five years ago. Most of the complaints are concentrated in parts of Brooklyn and lower Manhattan, and less in the South Bronx and Queens.

But even though the complaints are down, the report found a rise in response time regarding graffiti removal to an average of four months this year—up from 67 days from 2011-2013 under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who launched a multi-agency Anti-Graffiti Task Force in 2002.

The report attributes the rise in response time to “owners or neighbors […] taking matters into their own hands” and getting rid of the graffiti themselves before the city gets to it.

But Anthony Hogrebe, a spokesman for the city’s Economic Development Corporation—an agency that initiated the Graffiti-Free NYC program for most of the graffiti clean-up across the five boroughs—says the IBO report "Fails to tell the full story." For one thing, building and business owners are often cleaning up the graffiti themselves.

“If we send a crew to a site and they can’t remove the graffiti, whether it’s because the owner already did it, or the location is inaccessible, those requests have historically stayed on the books as unresolved,” says Hogrebe.

Besides, Hogebre says, “The report doesn’t take into consideration winter months, so in terms of average response time, it’s cyclical due to the backlog when near freezing temperatures can impact our ability to operate.”

Hogrebe says the agency has removed 35 percent more graffiti in 2015 as opposed to 2014. Close to 6 million square feet was removed by the program in fiscal year 2015, compared with 4.4 million in 2014.

The lack of federal funding over the years has hurt removal operations, says Hogrebe. But with $2.5 million in city money put forth by Mayor Bill de Blasio for clean-up operations in 2017, he sees the efforts expanding over the next year.

“We’re in the process of figuring out a better strategy in terms of determining the best ways to clean up the city,” he says. “I think New Yorkers will see that.”

Residents of Bay Ridge, Bensonhurt, and Dyker Heights might appreciate this strategy focusing on their neighborhoods, where there has been a 12 percent rise in complaints.

Councilman Vincent Gentile, who represents those areas, says proactive efforts are being made to combat graffiti in the area.

“I encourage the reporting of graffiti in my district so that my staff can expedite the clean-up process by notifying DSNY and our local precincts,” says Gentile. “It’s important to have several means to tackle graffiti, as graffiti clean-up is vital to maintaining my constituent’s high quality of life in our neighborhoods.”

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