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Crimewatch: Cost of battling graffiti rises

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The city of Austin spends hundreds of thousands of dollars cleaning up a never-ending crime.

The cost to clean up graffiti has gone up the past few years to about a half a million dollars.

Every year, the South by Southwest Festival brings in tens of thousands of visitors. It's also the event that causes the biggest jump in graffiti cases.

"There's a large group that comes in from out of town. It's more of a creative thing I think in their eyes, trying to show off their band or their group," said Julia Narum, Director of the city's graffiti clean up program.

She says it's costing more and more to clean up the crime in Austin. In 2009, it cost the city $400,000 and in 2011 the city spent $500,000 to clean up graffiti.

Most people don't think it's a crime.

"It is a crime. It is against the law to put graffiti anywhere. You don't' want someone to come paint your house without your permission," said Narum.

One of the worst corridors for graffiti is South Lamar. From Oltorf to Manchaca, city crews can't keep up with the taggers and graffiti offenders.

Neighbors do what they can, using elbow grease to scrub off graffiti where ever they find it. When they can, they just spray over it. Volunteers are equipped with supplies, like different color spray paint. Blue or green are good for dumpsters.

"It causes people to just do whatever, throw trash, maybe this is a good place I can burglarize. It really is a downward trend," said Laura Dicarlo of the Allandale Neighborhood Association.

"We have found that if we work together, we can help APD gather evidence and clues about who's doing the graffiti. For example, there was someone who, on bulky item pick up day, put their child's desk on the curb and that let us know a particular tagger lived at that house because his desk was covered in his tag," said Mary Arnett of Friends of North Shoal Creek.

Austin Police haven't had a city wide detective dedicated to graffiti cases since February 2010. Now, detectives from different sectors work cases in their own area. Courtney Daniel works financial crimes but still follows a few ongoing graffiti cases.

"They appreciate the allure of possibly getting caught by police and doing something that's wrong but they're more interested in the style of what they're doing and how they're doing," said Officer Daniel.

Depending on the amount of damage, the maximum punishment for graffiti is a first degree felony or life in prison.

"More people means more graffiti," said Narum.

To report someone doing graffiti call 911. If it has already been done dial 311 and if it needs to be removed by the city call 512-854-4591.

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