Southwest Side alderman wants graffiti crackdown
By Fran Spielman Sun-Times Media June 19, 2012 12:08PM
Grafitti around 43rd & Pulaski in Chicago. Monday, June 18, 2012 | Brian Jackson~Chicago Sun-Times
Updated: July 20, 2012 6:27AM
Concerned about a spike in gang graffiti in Chicago neighborhoods and a slowdown in city removal of it, an influential alderman is proposing a major offensive against juvenile vandals and their parents.
Two days after vandals defaced a memorial to fallen Chicago police officers near Soldier Field, Ald. Michael Zalewski (23rd) suggested taking graffiti cases from city hearing officers and returning them to the county courts where judges could sentence defendants to jail.
Zalewski also wants to dramatically increase the fines for graffiti — from $750 and up to 1,500 hours of community service to $2,000 and at least three days in jail or 2,500 hours of community service. His proposed ordinance would also double the minimum fine for parents or legal guardians — from $250 to $500 and raise the maximum fine from $750 to $1,000.
For decades, Chicago gangs have used graffiti to mark their territories, threaten rival gangs or take credit for shootings, which can lead to retaliation. But a lot of the graffiti marring city subways and viaducts is done by urban artists who don’t have anything to do with gangs.
Zalewski said he was disgusted by the spray-painted graffiti that nearly marred a Father’s Day Mass for the families of fallen police officers. But he’s equally concerned about the 30 defaced garages in a 11/2-block stretch of his Southwest Side ward that was hit hard with graffiti last week.
“Many of these offenders are just getting a slap on the wrist, and they’re right back out there doing it again. If some of these kids sit in jail for a few days instead of getting hit with a fine they never pay, they’ll think twice about doing it again,” the alderman said.
Under pressure from aldermen, Mayor Rahm Emanuel restored $1 million he initially cut from the city’s graffiti-removal budget, but Zalewski said the city has “less personnel than ever” to remove graffiti (from 60 to 43 workers in this year’s budget).
“We were getting rid of it in one or two days. Now, it’s taking up to two weeks. If graffiti just lays out there, people get the impression that the area is gang-infested. They lose faith in their community,” he said.
But the Emanuel administration said it’s using a grid system similar to the one being implemented for garbage collection to boost the daily productivity of graffiti-removal crews by 16 percent. Graffiti-removal requests to the city’s 311 help line are down 18 percent, city officials said.
Emanuel spokesman Tom Alexander said the city is keeping a lid on the insidious problem and that “we believe that the system is working well and has resulted in graffiti requests being handled promptly and efficiently.”
Al Cacciotolo, president of the Garfield Ridge Neighborhood Watch Group on the Southwest Side, said the city needs to get tough on graffiti.
“Obviously, they’re (gang members) trying to stake out a territory or intimidate the area. ... If it sits there for more than a couple of days, it shows that the gangbanger won,” Cacciotolo said, noting that five “major buildings” along Archer Avenue were hit last weekend.
He said, under the current ordinance, graffiti vandals only go to court if they’re caught in the act doing more than $500 worth of damage.
Most damage is for less than that amount, Cacciotolo said, and because most offenders do their dirty work between midnight and 3 a.m., they are rarely caught in the act.