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Graffiti a growing and costly problem in Salt Lake City

Published: Thursday, May 2 2013 5:30 p.m. MDT

Salt Lake City Police say in the last 10 years, the number of graffiti cases has more than tripled in the downtown area. It costs about $400,000 a year to remove or cover up the graffiti. Chief Chris Burbank said gang members marking their territory does nothing but invite more criminal activity or tear down neighborhoods.

Alan Neves, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The wall surrounding E.O. Barlow's home has been tagged so many times with graffiti that he’s given up trying to paint over it.

“It just got to be where we were spending too much time (covering it up)," the Salt Lake resident said. "I couldn’t afford to do it.”

Joe Barry, owner of A1 Casters and Equipment at 710 W. 1700 South, understands Barlow’s frustration. His business is targeted three or four times a year.

“You’ve taken it off so many times, it’s ruined the sign,” Barry said.

He said it cost him $800 to replace the signs, and he has to replace them again.

“I’d like to see (the taggers) get out there and clean it up,” Barry said.

Police say the number of graffiti cases has more than tripled in the past 10 years in the downtown area. In his monthly message, Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank said many people view graffiti as not a big deal, and very few people report active graffiti taking place.

“I’m always amazed that someone can crawl up on a street sign or freeway overpass and not a single call will come in to the police department,” Burbank said.

While street art that a property owner commissions or allows can add vibrancy to the cityscape, gang members marking their territory does nothing but invite more criminal activity and tear down neighborhoods, he said.

"I think it is a problem, for residents and business owners, for them to see graffiti on their property," Salt Lake police detective Veronica Montoya said. "If it's a business owner, sometimes customers won’t want to come in. I think, for them, it’s a big deal."

According to the city’s graffiti removal service, Salt Lake City spends nearly $400,000 a year removing unwanted graffiti. It’s a job that keeps crews busy five days a week, eight hours a day.

But that figure does not reflect what it costs for officers to respond to new incidents or to investigate the gang taggers in town, and it doesn’t include the loss of sales to businesses.

To stop the problem from getting worse, police are asking anyone who sees graffiti or a tagger in action to call Salt Lake City's graffiti hotline at 801-972-7885 or visit slcgov.com/graffiti.

"I wonder sometimes if they just don't think it's a big deal, but that's just giving the people the go-ahead,” Montoya said. “So residents, business owners, it's our property. We need to stand up for it."

Contributing: Haley Smith

Email: acabrero@deseretnews.com

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