Stuart Johnson, Deseret News
Taggers' work defaces the back of the Jesse Knight Building on the corner of Center Street and University Avenue in Provo. A proposed ordinance would require the city to clean up graffiti within 48 hours.

PROVO — Police Sgt. Devon Jensen isn't surprised the central business district is the most graffitied part of the city.

Typical graffiti taggers long to be the center of attention, he said, so it only makes sense they want to leave their mark in the center of the city.

"If it's off somewhere where nobody sees it, it defeats the purpose," Jensen said. "It doesn't satisfy their needs."

Provo's central business district gets hit with more graffiti than any other area in the city. According to reports obtained by Deseret News, police have received 1,154 reports of graffiti since Jan. 1, 2007. About 190 of those cases — or 17 percent — were in an area generally bordered by 600 South to 500 North and 600 West to 200 East. Other heavily graffitied areas include the Maeser, North Park, Rivergrove and Dixon neighborhoods — all close to the heart of Provo. These five areas combined account for nearly half of all graffiti crimes in the city.

Jensen said the typical graffiti tagger is starved for attention, not an aesthetic challenge.

"These guys don't like to go paint walls for artistic practice," he said. "They're trying to make a statement."

Jensen also said he doesn't think taggers are seeking an extra thrill by operating in an area of the city where the Provo Police Department and 4th District Court buildings stand, because most spray-paint wielders operate under the cover of dark.

City Councilwoman Cindy Richards said she's aware graffiti is a serious concern in the part of Provo she represents, which includes the central business district. That's why she's pushing for amendments to the city's graffiti removal ordinances to empower the city to clean up the urban blight faster.

"You send a message that this is not tolerated in our community," she said.

The council has rehashed and revetted the proposed changes to the current graffiti removal statute several times over the past few months. At one point, it required local retailers to keep their spray paint under lock and key. But, in its current form, the ordinance requires 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 ordinances also shifts responsibility for graffiti cleanup away from property owners to the city within 48 hours. Mayor Lewis Billings has called that a hard expectation to live up to.

"When it comes to graffiti on private property, we can't always make contact with the owners within 48 hours," he said at Tuesday's City Council meeting.

Jim Pettersson, a neighborhood chairman, said he hopes the ordinance will push through as it stands because property owners shouldn't be stuck with the cost of cleaning up the graffiti.

"It's a case of the victim being revictimized a second time," he said.

City Councilwoman Midge Johnson said she's concerned about language in the ordinance that forbids people from possessing graffiti implements — such as aerosol paint containers, broad-tip markers or paint sticks — while in any public facility, park, playground, swimming pool or recreational pool.

"That's problematic," she said. "I think that would be very hard to enforce."

The City Council will revisit the issue at its next work session in July.

Jensen said revving up efforts to wipe out graffiti quickly can quickly deflate potential graffiti taggers' aspirations.

"If it's not up there for everybody to see for extended periods of time, they lose the motivation," he said. "They lose the gratification."

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