They're painting the town again. Graffiti vandalism appears to be on the rise in Austin and for now, there may be no stopping them. A special police unit, created to catch those responsible, no longer exists.
The big brick walls at a north Austin business complex, across from Highland Mall, have always been a favorite target for graffiti. A few weeks ago, the paint can vandals left a really big mark on the side of Arron Masterson's furniture store.
"That's just a super soaker with water paint ... that's not art," said Masterson.
For Masterson, trying to stop the vandalism is a losing battle; even his delivery truck is a frequent target. Graffiti is popping up throughout Austin; they include neighborhoods around Highland Mall, residential areas in Hyde Park as well as those along South Congress, Lamar and Burnet. These new incidents appear to be the first major spike in cases of graffiti since 18 people were arrested in 2008. A special police unit caught the taggers. The Felony changes that were filed sent a strong message that reduced the number of acts of vandalism. But the Unit no longer exists. Business owners like Masterson would like to see it reactivated.
"Yeah, whatever would help, the more the better?"
Officials with the APD Gang Suppression unit tell FOX 7 they are aware of the increase in graffiti; and are discussing how to address it. There are questions about who should lead the effort. Some tagging is gang related, but the crackdown also revealed that some offenders are not affiliated with a gang. The question of funding for a new initiative must also be resolved before a crackdown can begin.
Neighborhoods may have to follow the team model that's currently being used in the city's core. Members of the Downtown Austin Alliance pay for maintenance workers to keep city streets and sidewalks clean. Last year, according to Bill Brice with the Alliance, crews removed just over 4,000 graffiti tags.
"I think what really works about is we partner up with the city of Austin's abatement crew we also partner with the downtown Austin Community Court to try to pull resources so most of our guys deal with spray solvent and wipe job," said Brice.
Bigger paint jobs are done by a two man crew managed by the Austin/Travis Co. Health Department. They responded to 6,500 graffiti complaints last year, according to agency spokesperson Carole Barasch. This year the city is expected to spend just over a half million dollars painting over graffiti. It's not cheap and certainly not a permanent solution. Arron Masterson understands that all too well.
"It will be that whole gray area will be hit again in probably the next two or three weeks."
Victims of graffiti can get help with the clean up by calling the city's 311 number. Since October about 560 calls have been made.