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Crimewatch: Cleaning up graffiti

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Graffiti is a city wide problem that police say has exploded in a part of town they normally don't see, near Slaughter Lane and Manchaca Road.

Police say there are so many cases, the turnaround time for clean-up crews is longer than ever. As a result, officers are stepping up.

Painting usually isn't part of an Austin police officer's duties. For about a month, though, some APD District Representatives have changed out of their uniforms to clean up graffiti.

"It's a deterrent," said Senior Police Officer Joshua Visi.

One of the newest hot spots is underneath the Slaughter Lane overpass near Manchaca Road in South Austin. Police say the usual hot spots are Burnet Lane, North and South Lamar, South Congress, and all the areas near the University of Texas.

Police say the number of graffiti complaints is up in the South Austin area. Overall calls for graffiti clean-up are also up across the city.

From June of last year to June 2012, the city says there was a 104% increase in graffiti calls from 219 to 448.

Taxpayers shell out between $500,000 and $600,000 a year to clean up graffiti. That expense goes up every year.

Julia Narvum is in charge of the city's graffiti abatement program.

"The city is growing, special events are growing, it's just causing graffiti to grow," Narvum said.

Police say the increase of graffiti incidents is backing up the city's graffiti clean-up crews. They just can't keep up. So Officer Visi and Officer Robert Barboza are pitching in.

"The turn around time was 30 to 45 days for our abatement teams and they do a fantastic job but they're small," Visi said. "If you give whoever is doing this activity, whether it's a juvenile or somebody who fancies themselves as an artist, if you give them 30 to 45 days before you're cleaning up the graffiti, you're not having a deterrent effect, you're basically giving them a clean canvas every 30 to 45 days.

"We want them, when we tag, almost immediately after, a day or two after that, we want to cover it up. Again that's going to discourage them to come back."

The officers are trying to get ahead of the problem so it doesn't lead to vandalizing nearby homes and businesses. A code compliance officer also goes out with officers. They take pictures and document the graffiti.

Police say underneath the Slaughter Lane overpass is a popular for illegal dumping and for train jumpers. They are responsible for some of the graffiti. They have also carved out a rest or sleep area for themselves. The stacked up rocks block wind and create a place for them to make cardboard signs.

"I actually got tag notes, if you will, hey APD, leave our stuff alone, leave our tags alone."

Police will continue to combat what they call urban decay in a growing city. The Code Compliance Unit has a few cameras scattered through out the city to monitor illegal dumping and graffiti.

Austinites should call Call 311 to report graffiti or to request clean-up. The city also provides free supplies for clean-up.

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