Ferrandino tags bill to cut down on graffiti tools

By Cindy Brovsky

When Rep. Mark Ferrandino walks his Southwest Denver neighborhoods, he sees the homes and businesses defaced by graffiti and he hears — loud and clear — the impact on the residents.

“At every community meeting, residents tell me graffiti is a huge problem,” he said.

Ferrandino, D-Denver, is hoping to “take a small step” by proposing a statewide law that would make it illegal for anyone under 18 to purchase graffiti-type materials — including aerosol paint, broad-tipped markers and paint sticks — without written permission from a parent.

Businesses would be required to post signs about the law. Violators would face fines of $250 for the first offense; $500 for the second; $1,000 for the third, and may also be sentenced up to 60 days in jail.

Ferrandino has worked with a national retail council to make sure the language of the bill is workable for businesses. A portion of the fines would be used to fund sports and after-school programs for youth.

“If kids can get involved in other activities, it may keep them from getting started in graffiti,” he said.

The City and County of Denver and other communities, including Englewood and Pueblo, already have similar laws but Ferrandino said a statewide law would make it more consistent. Officials suspect Denver juveniles may be buying or stealing the items from stores in communities without the law and then bringing the items to Denver. Denver's law requires a mandatory lock up for aerosol spray paint to control sales to adults and avoid theft.

“This isn’t going to solve the graffiti problem but it is a step forward to try and deal with it,” he said.

A bill in a previous session was aimed at prosecuting youth for just possessing graffiti-type items and Ferrandino agreed that proposal failed because of civil rights issues and the possibility it could lead to racial profiling. Denver City Councilman Paul Lopez encouraged Ferrandino to introduce this bill, which is still seeking a Senate sponsor.

Denver alone spends nearly $2 million yearly to clean graffiti and RTD spends $1 million, according to the Metro Area Graffiti Task Force of Denver.

The task force, which represents more than 30 law enforcement agencies, would endorse Ferrandino’s efforts but his proposal isn’t addressing the heart of the problem, said Englewood Officer Jason Pearson, director of operations for the task force.

“The majority of the suspects are not juveniles but adult males with the average age of 26,” Pearson said. “I arrested four guys recently and they were all over the age of 18. They admitted they purchased the items at an art supply store.”

Other issues are enforcement and sentencing, Pearson said.

“We already have so many laws we can’t prosecute because of the lack of manpower,” he said. “And are the judges going to go along with it? They don’t take graffiti offenses as seriously as other crimes.”

Perhaps more helpful in fighting graffiti than another law, Pearson said, is new GPS tracking software that the task force began using in December. The equipment, developed in Australia and used in England and Canada, allows law enforcement agencies to track the activities of graffiti taggers 24 hours a day.

“This allows us to better predict where and when the taggers may strike,” Pearson said. “They are creatures of habit and a lot of graffiti has showed up along South Federal Boulevard where they feel comfortable. We can set up sting operations.”