Graffiti problem in Jersey City Heights is out of control

Dear Editor:
For the second time in less than five months, Pershing Field Park has been hit — and hit hard — with graffiti spray-painted along its historic stonewalls. The tags appeared in late May, yet remain on the walls.
It’s safe to say the graffiti problem in Jersey City Heights is out of control. To combat it, the City and its agencies must devote more resources toward removing tags swiftly, prosecuting vandals, and finding positive outlets for would-be taggers — before they resort to damaging property. To date, the City’s efforts have fallen short.
I began tracking this problem in January when two taggers, “IMAN” and “Dork,” decimated the Heights with over 160 tags. Their tags appeared across the neighborhood on mailboxes, homes, businesses, vehicles, and playgrounds. Together these juveniles inflicted over $45,000 in damage.
Worse, IMAN and Dork inspired “copy cat” taggers in the Heights, including “KEEP,” “RADAR,” and “EX,” among others. Residents, business owners, and local government each have role in improving our neighborhoods, but given the scope of this graffiti epidemic, the City must lead the way by implementing stronger anti-graffiti policies.
To their credit, City officials, including Theresa Haywood (Mayor’s Action Bureau), Mark Redfield (Housing Code Enforcement), Crystal Fonseca (Jersey City Incinerator Authority (JCIA)), and Detective Anthony Silver (North District, Jersey City Police Department), among others, have been working diligently to track complaints and have tags removed.
Unfortunately, it has not been enough. Ongoing delays in clean-up, particularly on public properly, have sent a message that our city does not take graffiti seriously. To effectively deter taggers, the city must remove graffiti from public property within 48 hours, as is the standard in Los Angeles County, CA, Santa Fe, NM, and Buffalo, NY.
Meanwhile, more resources are needed for graffiti removal teams. Currently, JCIA has only one power-wash truck for the whole city. JCIA resorts to using household paint collected from residents to paint over graffiti without properly matching the surface color. This “paint over” method creates a colorful patchwork on walls and provides a “fresh canvass” for new graffiti.
Prosecution of taggers has also been needlessly difficult, with little pay off. “IMAN” and “DORK” each received 30 hours of community service and were instructed to write an essay on “why graffiti is bad.” Considering they caused upwards of $45,000 in damage, 30 hours and an essay are a slap on the wrist. It is understandable that some JCPD officers might feel pursuing vandals is a waste of time given these lax sentences. Still, police must remain vigilant, and local prosecutors must punish offenders harshly to deter others.
The Heights is a vibrant neighborhood, and the community here has the potential to achieve great things. Until the graffiti problem is addressed head on, we are holding back that potential. Other community leaders and I will continue working with local businesses and residents to set a higher bar in combating our graffiti problem. Is the City prepared to join us?

Peter Basso
President, Washington Park Association

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