SALEM - Members of the Rules & Ordinances Committee of city council have decided to take a more positive approach to handling graffiti, rather than punishing property owners who don't remove it.
Committee member Councilwoman Cyndi Baronzzi Dickey described it as more of a victim assistance program they would like to see established rather than the city issuing orders, perhaps with a community group offering to help a property owner remove graffiti if they want it removed.
"Let's try prevention first," she said.
The committee met Tuesday night for a work session with city Law Director Brooke Zellers to go over some of the previously discussed ideas for an ordinance. The committee had met before about the issue, with talk about punishing offenders, addressing possession of graffiti implements, such as spraypaint, and forcing property owners to remove graffiti in a set time period.
According to Zellers, laws are already in place to address both the offenders and the implements. As committee member Councilman Clyde Brown pointed out, probable cause would be necessary to stop someone in possession of a can of spraypaint and Zellers agreed it would be difficult to prove someone's intent.
Committee Chairman Councilman Rick Drummond said the real key is getting the graffiti removed quickly so the people doing the graffiti become disinterested and stop doing it. Some of the discussion was on the use of community service workers to remove graffiti or help with cleanup and the request the use of cleanup as a term of probation for someone convicted of graffiti-type offenses.
Zellers said getting groups involved to assist in the removal of graffiti or community service workers were good ideas, but he said that creates an issue of how to get on the private property to remove the graffiti. He said he received a lot of calls regarding the idea of forcing the responsibility on the property owners and making them victims twice.
He said aesthetic issues don't hold up constitutionally because they don't pass the test for the health, safety and welfare of the citizens. He said one person's view of graffiti could be bad while someone else views it as art. He said defining what's morally bad or what's improper also creates a problem.
Drummond previously used the example of high grass and the city's enforcement of lawn care and compared it to graffiti removal, but Zellers said it's not the same because there's case law to support the high grass law because of the threat to health from rodents, etc.
Dickey said she didn't think the city should be the one removing the graffiti from properties, saying "that's going a step too far."
Drummond suggested some type of reward for property owners who remove graffiti without being told and she said maybe a good citizen award, not money as he suggested as a tax rebate.
Dickey also suggested involving the schools in a campaign against graffiti, with Zellers suggesting the police department's juvenile officer could talk to students.
The committee plans to set another meeting to get community input and for any community groups interested in taking the lead or assisting with cleanup projects to step forward. Zellers said he'll talk to the courts and prosecutor's office about community service requirements for cleanup. He also mentioned a waiver form property owners could sign allowing someone on their property to do the cleanup.