Editorial: Still grappling with graffiti

Published on June 16, 2017

Someone who uses the graffiti tag TeKOE has been leaving their mark all over Summerside and Charlottetown this year. Police believe there are more than 15 such tags throughout Summerside alone.

©Colin MacLean/Journal Pioneer

The headline splashed across the front page of the Summerside Journal-Pioneer in P.E.I. last Saturday expressed the community’s frustrations with the recent surge in graffiti.
“Take off, TeKOE,” it said.

The prime suspect in Summerside is a tagger using TeKOE as a calling card, but change the name and location and the same frustrations apply in communities across Atlantic Canada.

TeKOE has been tagging private and public property in Summerside and Charlottetown for the past several years, and there have been sightings in Moncton and Halifax as well.

Graffiti is an obvious problem but solutions are hard to find, and identifying culprits can be harder still.

Research shows that if graffiti is left untouched, it encourages more vandalism, and property values lessen. So, the best way to discourage graffiti is to clean it up, which costs the property owner.

In fact, graffiti removal is now a niche industry, although the jobs created are a minor upside considering the scope of the problem. There are several companies in Atlantic Canada dedicated to getting rid of the stuff. One Halifax business, established in 1999, has removed over 300,000 graffiti tags already.

Municipalities are trying to grapple with graffiti through bylaws, increased police resources and by relying on Crime Stoppers.

And some communities have high-profile spaces dedicated to graffiti, where the municipality or property owners “donate” the side of a building or a retaining wall so artists can make their mark legally and have their work on display. It’s helped control the problem and provides a showcase for the talents of those who deserve to be called graffiti artists.

Back in Summerside, the community has moved beyond a reliance on police arrests. City police and P.E.I. Crime Stoppers recently partnered to put out a call for information — with a potential reward — for information in the TeKOE case. Police are urging businesses to immediately remove any graffiti on their property — called Operation Graffiti Wipeout.

Police have also taken to social media about TeKOE and are trying a Youth Intervention Outreach Program, a pilot project where young graffiti artists are asked to remove the damage they’ve caused to property. In return, they won’t be saddled with a record. Police are also reaching out to schools where youngsters often hone their skills.

Graffiti is considered mischief under the Criminal Code. If found guilty, a person can face two years in jail.

Graffiti artists should think carefully before defacing private property.

Property owners spend their own money to hide or remove unwelcome graffiti, with some tags costing several thousand dollars to clean up.

And it’s not just businesses getting hit — sometimes it’s private homes and vehicles, and city signage, which costs taxpayers’ money.

Communities are tired of it, and rightfully so.

Are you listening, graffiti artists?

Tag, you’re it.