- Associated Press - Saturday, June 21, 2014

PHOENIX (AP) - A new Arizona law addressing graffiti cleanup will now allow for public and private property owners to obtain restitution directly from the perpetrators, the Arizona Republic reported (http://bit.ly/1nrQL5t) this week.

The law, which Gov. Jan Brewer signed in April, says taggers can be liable for the cost of labor, paint and other supplies that go into cleaning up a damaged property. It also imposes uniform statewide fines for graffiti.

But officials in cities including Phoenix and Mesa say it will be hard to gauge if the bill has any effect.

Lawmakers, however, said the bill was proposed so that cities would have more tools to recoup all their losses.

“A lot of times, the cities were reimbursed for a bucket of paint,” said Rep. Juan Carlos Escamilla, a Democrat from San Luis. “It might take five or 10 hours to clean it up. This bill will allow them to go after the perpetrators for the complete damages.”

State Rep. Paul Boyer, a Phoenix Republican, said that he specifically wanted to make sure private property owners would also be included in the measure.

“Not only is (graffiti) unsightly, it indicates gang activity,” Boyer said.

Some cities already pursue restitution from convicted vandals.

Phoenix officials estimate more than $2 million was spent last fiscal year on graffiti removal. Nearly $2 million has already been spent through April of this year, according to city officials.

“Because the city already has a process for restitution, it’s not known if this will have an impact or not,” said Erynn Crowley, Phoenix deputy director of neighborhood services. “We’d be guessing at this point.”

In Mesa, officials spent more than $200,000 the 2012-13 fiscal year to wiping away more than 1 million square feet of graffiti through a contractor’s services. City data show that restitution was ordered in four of 25 cases that were prosecuted within that time period. The city only collected twice. Each time it was for $50 or $100, a fraction of the actual removal costs.

Within the first quarter of this year, Mesa has spent $150,000.

Mesa City Councilman Dave Richins said there’s no way the new law can help the city get back all the money it has had to devote to graffiti.

Most officials agree that they would likely invest whatever the cost to keep their cities pristine and inviting.

“We get comments from people looking for business locations about how clean Mesa is,” Richins said. “They feel safer. The point of the bill is to address the social cost, people feeling unsafe in their homes.”

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Information from: The Arizona Republic, http://www.azcentral.com

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