Sandusky County sees graffiti as growing -- and costly -- nuisance

CLYDE Call it street art, an expression of boredom or a public nuisance. Graffiti has
Sarah Weber
May 24, 2010

CLYDE

Call it street art, an expression of boredom or a public nuisance.

Graffiti has been popping up with greater frequency in eastern Sandusky County and it's causing headaches for government officials, police and residents.

"I think it's just so unfortunate," said Clyde councilwoman Carolyn Farrar. "I'm not clear on what kind of satisfaction people get out of it."

Farrar, who is the manager at Croghan Colonial Bank in Clyde, said earlier this year the bank was tagged by a juvenile graffiti vandal.

"We built this new branch, and we have a detached drive-up area," she said. "And we had a graffiti incident on the brand-new brick."

She echoed many other frustrated officials who said they've tried hard to give residents public space to enjoy.

They say they just can't understand the senseless destruction of public and private property.

"We're proud of our home town and I'm disturbed that others haven't had that same respect," she said. "So much is being done -- the improvements to the city pond and the swimming pool -- to make this a better place."

Clyde Police Chief Bruce Gower said there isn't necessarily a spike in incidents, though five juveniles were arrested in conjunction with graffiti earlier this year.

But in Fremont, police Det. Tony Emrich has investigated a number of new graffiti drawings by both juveniles and adults.

Fremont police Chief Tim Wiersma said the vandals have tagged public and residential property, as well as businesses in the city. The North Coast Inland Trail has been heavily hit, he said.

"We're trying to keep a handle on it and discourage it as much as possible," Wiersma said.

For a $2 can of spray paint, he said, vandals can do thousands of dollars of damage. To him, the squiggled lines and bubble-letter gibberish vandals paint seems more like pure property damage than murals of artistic expression. Wiersma said the symbols are not gang-related in the sense that the groups of kids who create them are not really in gangs.

He said gangs, by definition, support themselves through criminal activity. The groups of kids that create the graffiti identify their group with tags; however, the only crime they really commit is vandalism.

"I think they think it's cool," Wiersma said. "They can identify themselves with the style and the markings. They can even change, so we have the old tag and the new tag."

Emrich is keeping a notebook of all of the graffiti reported in the city. Vandals usually have their own signature tag, so the notebook could help police keep track of who is doing the painting -- and who should be held responsible if a perpetrator is caught.

At a recent Clyde council meeting, city officials suggested juvenile court Judge Brad Smith start handing out harsh punishments for the graffiti to deter other young people from committing the crime.

Smith said last week he could understand the officials' frustrations; however, he has to treat each graffiti vandal on a case by case basis.

"Clearly it's not appropriate to over-punish a juvenile to send a message to other juveniles," he said.

If juveniles in the community start seeing their peers held accountable, though, Smith said that might be deterrent enough.

"(Graffiti) bothers me just like any citizen," he said.

There is no criminal charge to specifically address graffiti, so the juveniles and adults caught doing it are typically charged with vandalism or criminal damaging.

Smith said his office will contact municipalities that have been harmed by graffiti, to see if community service can be arraigned for the juveniles who are found guilty.