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Jason Olson, Deseret News
A vandalized cinderblock wall at 700 N. Orem Blvd. was cleaned up by participants in the Teens Against Graffiti program.

PROVO — An ordinance intended to give the city a boost in the war against graffiti taggers is one step closer to receiving approval from the City Council.

At a recent study session, the Provo City Council voted 6-1 to advance a proposal that would strengthen city provisions against graffiti to its June 3 agenda. Mayor Lewis Billings said the draft ordinance would also crank up the heat on graffiti artists.

"This is kind of a war," Billings said. "People are getting frustrated."

Most notably, the ordinance under consideration would require local retailers who sell aerosol paint containers or broad-tip markers to display a sign in their stores stating: "Graffiti is against the law. Any person who defaces real or personal property with paint or other liquid or device is guilty of a crime punishable by a fine up to $1,000 and/or imprisonment for up to six months."

The proposed ordinance would also allow the mayor to establish a procedure for city personnel to remove graffiti anywhere in the city within 48 hours after the initial graffiti report. Under the current city ordinance against graffiti, the city has to give the property owner 10 days notice to remove the graffiti before the city can come in and remove it.

The ordinance would also prohibit any person from possessing a graffiti implement while in any public facility, park, playground, swimming pool or recreational facility, or within 50 feet of any underpass, bridge, bridge abutment, storm drain or road sign except as authorized by the responsible party or unless expressly authorized by law. Anyone caught defacing property with paint or other liquids would be guilty of a crime punishable by a $1,000 fine and six months in the county jail.

The city has seen a significant spike in the number of graffiti incidents reported in the past few years. According to police reports, there have been 205 graffiti incidents reported thus far in 2008. In March, Provo Police Sgt. Devon Jensen said the police received 1,045 reports of graffiti in 2007. In 2006, the number of reports was much lower at 433; and, in 2005, only 229 cases were reported.

Jensen attributed the recent increase in reports to several factors.

"This has gone up drastically each year due to both increase in graffiti and also public awareness and reporting," he told the City Council in March. In 2007, the city launched its graffiti hotline number, 85-CRIME, as well as www.graffiti.provo.org, a Web site that allows people to report graffiti online.

Cleanup efforts to remove graffiti cost the city $23,488 in 2007, Jensen said, and $15,244 in 2006. A 3-foot-square piece of graffiti typically costs $50 to be cleaned up or painted over.

Typically, two groups are prone to graffiti: taggers and gang members. Jensen said taggers work in groups and often feel their work is artistic or political. Gang members, on the other hand, use graffiti to mark their territory.

While City Councilman Steve Turley likes the idea of tighter city enforcement of graffiti laws, he said other cities need to get involved.

"Really, all we're doing is relocating the problem instead of solving it," he said.

If Provo amps up its graffiti regulations, Turley said, then potential taggers could just drive a mile north to Orem or a mile south to Springville to get graffiti implements.

Turley also questioned the effectiveness of a sign reminding people graffiti is against the law.

City Councilwoman Midge Johnson countered Turley's statement, saying department stores display signs in fitting rooms stating that shoplifting is a crime.

"I believe that's a deterrent; otherwise they wouldn't be doing it," she said.

"Has it helped you?" Turley quipped.

"Yeah," Johnson responded jokingly.

The City Council voted 6-1 to move the proposed ordinance to the City Council meeting agenda for June 3. Turley was the lone dissenting vote.

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