Saturday, February 7, 2009

Is three months jail fair for graffiti?

There was a bit of a stir this week when 18 year old Cheyane Back was sent to prison for 3 months for scrawling a tag on a cafe.

I usually refrain from commenting on the laws that we have in place, how they are policed and the sorts of punishments that magistrates hand down - and I will continue to uphold that policy.

Cheyane thought it was overkill that she should go to prison for scrawling a single tag - '2shie'.  However, this ignores the fact that for years, the Police have been building up a state wide database of graffiti tags, with the aim of tracking those vandals that are prolific taggers.  What the media has not  told us is whether evidence was tendered in court from this database, and whether '2shie' is a common sight in her neighbourhood.  The story would take on a different complexion if her tag is all over the database like a rash.

From what I have seen over the last 6 months around Canada Bay, it's clear that there are some vandals who have painted their tags hundreds of times across their patch.  They return to some sites again and again, painting their tag as often as possible.  They seem to have a deep psychological need to get their tag onto as many spots as possible, like an obsessive-compulsive disorder.  Frankly, when she says:

"But I'll never do anything like it again. I would clean it off, I'll apologise, I'll do anything. I was shocked and scared," she continued.

I don't believe her.  Giving up graffiti seems to be as hard as giving up smoking.  Vandals are hooked on it, as it provides a frequent adrenaline fix.  

It's hard to fully prosecute these sorts of cases if the Police graffiti database is incomplete.  The great majority of graffiti attacks probably go unreported and unrecorded - property owners simply paint over the vandalism and move on.  However, given that the government has setup an Anti-graffiti team, and that team includes all the major utilities, and the Police are doing their best to populate the database with information, it seems futile if some government authorities are not co-operating and are not passing on graffiti intelligence to the Police.  At the very least, you'd expect government agencies to follow government policy in this regard.

I am going to make further enquiries this week as to whether the government agencies concerned (Energy Australia, Sydney Water etc) are indeed reporting every instance of graffiti to the Police. I know that RailCorp are doing it, so I won't bother with them.  However, I'll be shocked and disappointed if I find that Energy Australia are not reporting vandalism as they should.

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