Just Short of Singapore

At the Rules Committee last week, there was a proposal to amend the Graffiti Abatement Ordinance for juvenile offenders.

When someone gets arrested for doing graffiti in San Jose or other cities in Santa Clara county they are punished via the County court system. However cities do have a municipal code where offenders may pay a fine. State law does an adequate job of prosecuting adult graffiti offenders, however, some would say not such a good job of dealing with juveniles, since county probation does not want to spend the resources to supervise their community service work.

The proposal at Rules is asking that minors who are convicted of doing graffiti perform 24 hours of community service work which might include removing their own graffiti and other activities. The memo also states that the minor could pay a $500 fine in lieu of the community service, and if the juvenile could not pay the parents would be liable. The city of San Jose currently spends $2 million a year removing graffiti.

This might sound like a step in the right direction, but I’m not sure it’s enough.  A couple of downtown residents spoke at the Rules committee and said they want more punitive measures against these vandals of private and public property. I agree with the speakers. We should raise the community service hours and the fine to the highest amount allowed by state law. We may choose collectively to not be as punitive toward graffiti vandals as Singapore—but a higher penalty would help discourage the vandalism that is rampant throughout our city.

As far an inexpensive way of doing community service, we might assign neighborhoods where the juvenile would pick up trash continuously. Or assign them to areas where they have to paint out graffiti. However, this could be problematic if they are removing a gang tag and the gang members might retaliate against them. It is unlikely gang members would retaliate against city employees doing their job painting out graffiti. Therefore maybe the offenders should accompany our city employees and be put to work if possible under Workers Compensation rules.

Another option would be to to have the juvenile report to a park and be instructed by a city gardener to pull out all the weeds out of a large park. Then the gardener would check at the end of the day and if the work was not done the offender would not get signed off. We need to find an inexpensive way of managing juvenile offender community service while managing our risk of lawsuits if they got hurt. So lets minimize our risk and not assign them to freeways and expressways but keep them in the neighborhood. I would imagine the hours of punishment would need to be more like 250 hours, or again whatever is the maximum allowed by state law.

This topic will be addressed in the Mayors Gang Task Force and will come back to Rules and eventually to Council in a few months. There are many legal and jurisdictional questions that must be answered by the city attorney, county court system and state law so thus the delay.

What do you think is the appropriate level of punishment? Or do you think they are artists and should be allowed to express themselves? What type of a punitive community service system would you suggest/design that would be inexpensive to administer and would be an easy option for a judge to assign the offender to this system?


  1. Or do you think they are artists and should be allowed to express themselves?

    That statement is irrelevant.  The point is not their “art”.  Rather it is the placing of their “art” on someone else’s property.  I believe this taking of someone’s property is called “stealing”, or perhaps a better term is “assault”, since the property owner is being assaulted by their “art”.

    In so far as punishment, others can address that issue.  Personally, a financial loss, and a loss of personal time is fine by me.  Just make it large enough to not be considered cruel and unusual punishment.

  2. they should be responsible for, at a minimum, taking the time and paying for materials needed to restore any surfaces they vandalized to its original condition and the fully-loaded cost of the supervision needed to ensure they do a quality job.  (in other words, cover the wages, payroll taxes, pension contributions, and anything else I forgot about for city or private employees who supervise them and check their work). 

    And then they should spend a few eight-hour days picking up litter and dog poop in city parks.

  3. There also lots of weeds to be pulled at schools as well. I bet school principals would be happy to have free help for 6 months and the janitor or principal could sign the work as complete or not complete. They are not artists-they are criminals.

    • I love this idea, the extra help is needed with the recent cutbacks in our schools face.  Unfortunately, everyone employee and volunteer finger prints must be cleared – those working in the vicinity of children.  I do think that weekend work maybe something to consider along with mandatory classes for such criminal artist.  Classes should focus on why they are their and teach community and environment.

  4. PO
    Judges can order these youth offenders to the Victim Offender Program through the Dispute Resolution Program at the County of Santa Clara for restitution. The youth has to face their victim, and pay restitution. Great program and it cuts the rate re-offending quite a bit. I know I worked in it for 6 years!

  5. Before any more speculation send someone to DT Chicago to find out what that Windy City is doing right!
    When I was visited nearly 10 years ago I could not find graffiti anywhere (except a 3 inch square patch on an El train door window).  There was no indication of graffiti removal chemicals so graffiti was never placed to be removed.

    I asked a Chicagoan visiting here the reason Chicago is so clean.  He suggested that the authorities will beat the living tar out of anyone caught who desires to become such an “artist”.

    Here in Santa Cruz we have “official graffiti”
    acceptable to the City Arts Commission, placed on traffic signal control boxes everywhere in vandal resistant paint.  Some of the artwork is pretty good, if you like that kind of stuff.

    So far my suggestion has been ignored.  It’s to have one side of many boxes decorated with a street map of the neighborhood or of Santa Cruz so that visiting drivers that are lost can find their way
    about.  Santa Cruz lies between hills and the Ocean and a river, most streets were laid out nearly 150 years ago so traveling around town without getting lost for most tourists is nearly impossible. 

    Street maps all over town at signal control boxes would be much appreciated by many visitors.

  6. You’re definately on the right track here.

    While they may be juveniles, they can easily do tens of thousands of dollars worth of damage in an evening, especially when etching windows. We see that at least once a year along The Alameda.

    Park maintenance is an excellent way to work off the damage to the community, but I think it’s also important for the perp to know the people in the area where the crime was committed. Knowing the people will make the perp less likely to offend aginst the community in the future. How about allowing neighborhood associations to use the juvenile community service hours to staff events, plant trees and other such activities where the offenders can meet the people?

  7. Tagging is just vandalism and several people here have made good suggestions on the topic.

    For the minority of graffiti that is more artistic, it would be an idea to provide an approved outlet for it. I think the look of our rather bland city would be improved by some colorful murals that could be created by youth art programs.

    Businesses could be induced to contribute to the cost of materials and paying artist advisors (from our local universities and colleges?), because creating a more attractive neighborhood would bring them more customers.