Most graffiti innocent but pesky

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One person’s art is often another person’s expensive cleanup job. But, says one park ranger, “Most of the time it’s just nonsense.”

Dan Scheuerman, senior park ranger at South Suburban Parks and Recreation District, says graffiti has been on the rise throughout the district since a sudden, unexplainable increase in 2007. Since then, the district has counted 1,067 incidents for a cleanup cost of about $263,000.

“Time and money spent removing graffiti could be spent on upkeep and enhancements to parks, trails, open space and facilities,” said SSPR spokesperson Jamie DeBartolomeis in a press release.

Since late August, there have been 40 incidents across the district. Scheuerman often sees more graffiti in the fall, he says, as kids settle back into school. Most of it is innocent, just kids goofing off, he says.

“Those 14-year-olds can run pretty fast,” said Scheuerman. “Unless you happen to get lucky, it’s almost impossible to catch them.”

Littleton Police Officer Jim Hanna agrees.

“To be honest, we’ve seen a reduction in gang activity,” he said. “People used to talk about the wannabes, and then it got real.”

He’s referring to the shooting death of DaVon Flores in October 2012. Three men have been arrested and are awaiting trial.

Hanna worked as a school-resource officer for several years, and said Littleton Public Schools is good about keeping any and all gang activity, including graffiti, away from its buildings.

“It almost seems like it’s a reprieve for the kids that they don’t have to deal with it there,” he said.

But wander the culverts and trails of the city, and you’ll see plenty of evidence that even if the kids aren’t in gangs, there’s plenty of gathering going on. Most of it is doodling, name-calling or just nonsense, as Scheuerman calls it. A particularly ironic one proclaims, “Jesus loves you.” If that artist also supports “Do unto others,” presumably she’d be glad to pay the $500 Scheuerman said it cost to remove her work.

“There’s not a lot for teenagers to do,” said Hanna. “They get chased out of the parks by people who think they might be up to no good, and eventually they end up in places like this where nobody can see them.”

Painting over graffiti is the easiest fix, but porous surfaces like signs and sidewalks require the use of chemicals and power-washing equipment.

“Every time you bring down a large piece of equipment, the price goes up,” said Scheuerman.

An $8,000 camera on top of a very high pole overlooking the skate park at Cornerstone Park has basically eliminated the problem there, said Scheuerman, and locking park restrooms at night has cut down cleanup time at some of the other parks.

“They’re good about getting it cleaned up,” said Hanna. “They’re trying to keep up a good image for the city. And the citizens are good about reporting it.”

DeBartolomeis asks parents to remind teenagers that graffiti is illegal, and those who are caught get a ticket, a court date, possible community service and a bill for the cleanup costs.

“No area in the district, regardless of cultural or economic status, is immune to this activity,” she writes.

To report a graffiti sighting in a park or on a trail, call Scheuerman at 303-435-8225 or 303-435-8227. If it’s on city or private property, call the Littleton Police Department at 303-794-1551. City code requires it to be removed or painted over within 24 hours.

“If you see graffiti or vandalism in progress, call 911 immediately with the location and description of the participant,” advises the city’s website. “Prompt removal of graffiti helps to discourage further incidents of graffiti in a neighborhood.”

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