Causes and cures for graffiti discussed in Gateway

If your idea of “art-in-the-open” differs from what’s thrown up by taggers, read this, and find out what you can do before – and after – your property is marked …

The City of Portland’s anti-graffiti guru, Marcia Dennis, tells why it’s important to remove markings as soon as possible – after you snap a photo.

Story by Watford Reed and David F. Ashton; David F. Ashton photos
If you wake up some morning and find your fence, wall, business establishment, or car is covered with grotesque caricatures or writing or just plain vandalism, you are not alone.

So said Marcia Dennis, coordinator of Portland’s struggle against graffiti, when she spoke to members of the Gateway Area Business Association at Midway Library on January 8.

“Two steps are needed to fight graffiti and its perpetrators,” she said, “take a picture of the mess, and then get rid of it.”

Dennis said that graffiti, by legal definition, is a crime of vandalism, pointing to ORS 164.383 and Portland City Code 14B.80. “It is the unauthorized application of markings on someone else’s property, that is, without the owner’s permission.”

Not child’s play
“Tagger” graffiti is the most prevalent type in Portland. “80-85% of all graffiti in Portland fits this description,” Dennis told the group. “It may be simple line-letters, or elaborate colorful designs, ‘pieces’ or ‘throw-ups’.”

Surprisingly, Dennis said most of the taggers arrested in Portland are not juveniles, as one might suspect. “Their median age is 20.” She added that taggers often travel or associate with a “crew”, whose members may all use the same signature, or “tag”,  plus their own “moniker”, and who hang out together.

A small percentage of graffiti is done by gangs who mark out their territory, Dennis says.

Gangs mark turf
Gang graffiti is growing in Portland, Dennis went on. “Citywide, it accounts for 13-15% of all graffiti-vandalism. In some neighborhoods, it is a much higher percentage of the graffiti.”

Gang graffiti is the way gang members communicate with each other. Most of the gang graffiti currently seen in Portland is done by Hispanic or Latino/Latina gang members, or “wanna-be’s”. Dennis added that a growing number of gang-vandals are young females. And a growing number of individuals arrested for marking gang graffiti, she added, have been juveniles.

Report – Document – Remove
“Leaving graffiti up invites more such activity in the area,” Dennis explained. But, before it is painted or scrubbed off, she asked that citizens follow the three-step plan of reporting, documenting, and then removing.

Report graffiti by contacting:

  • Portland Police Graffiti Hotline – 503-823-4824
  • Police Non-Emergency – 503-823-3333 (weekends or Holidays)
  • If you witness it occurring, call 9-1-1
  • Online – – and select “Report a graffiti problem”

Take Photos and send to Graffiti Abatement:

  • Digital photos (no larger than 1 MB, please) to:
  • Hard copies, or Photo CDs, by mail to: 1221 SW 4th Avenue, Room 110, Portland, OR 97204

Remove it:

  • If it’s on your own property, paint it out, or check out a removal kit with solvent from one of nine Portland Fire & Rescue, namely – 3, 8, 13, 14, 18, 23, 25, 40 and 31. The kits contain solvent to be used to ‘wipe-off’ most kinds of graffiti.
  • If you need free assistance, call 503-823-5860 to put in a request, if yours is owner-occupied residential property, non-profit, or small business location.
  • Volunteer to remove from properties in the right-of-way: Go to the “Report a graffiti problem” webpage at ‘report a graffiti, and see sign-up sheets, and other information about volunteering to remove graffiti.
  • Chronic locations – for your own property, contact your neighborhood Crime Prevention Coordinator for free assistance in ‘target-hardening’ techniques, i.e., tips to make your property more secure and less vulnerable to graffiti and other vandalism.

“When it comes to street signs, ‘stop’ signs, and other highway signage, please don’t clean them, report them,” urged Dennis. “That’s because most heavy-duty cleaning agents will strip the paint off these signs, damaging them further.”

Preventing graffiti
The best way to prevent graffiti is “don’t provide an inviting ‘canvas’ for taggers,” Dennis said. Covering walls with ivy, putting bushes with thorns at the base of walls, preventing taggers from climbing on buildings and keeping areas well-lit are all ways of making graffiti artists move on to a more inviting property.

Outgoing GABA president Alan Sanchez gets the coveted Rubber Chicken Award from board member, and the meeting’s host, Lee Powell of Farmer’s Insurance.

Meet the members
If you have a business, do business, or live in the Gateway area, come check out this organization. They meet the second Thursday of the month (February 12); networking starts at 11:30 AM. The meetings convene at Midland Library, 805 S.E. 122nd Ave. For more information, go to

© 2009 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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