Scratch Games: Understanding graffiti


Power, self-expression and rebellion are the key words to understanding any discussion about graffiti. Recent angst about a growing problem in Minneapolis prompted the Uptown Association to present a Graffiti Education Meeting at Bryant Square Park. Sergeant Giovanni Veliz, a Minneapolis Police Department graffiti investigator, gave an experienced report of graffiti in Uptown with 5th Precinct Crime Prevention Specialist Tom Thompson and Angela Brenny of Minneapolis Solid Waste and Recycling (MSWR).

The good news is that in Uptown, as defined by CARAG, East Isles, ECCO, Lowry Hill East and Lyndale, only about 1% of the graffiti is gang related. Veliz says it can take many years to master the art of deciphering between the two, so residents shouldn’t necessarily worry about learning how to do it.

The culture does not necessarily generate any consistent profile of offenders. Men and women are involved of various ages and criminal backgrounds. Veliz described how they once caught a schoolteacher. The videotape showed him walking around on the street talking on his cell phone and then intermittently scribbling on anything when it was clear no one was watching.

Some patterns are emerging though. Offenders mostly choose bikes as their favorite form of travel. Some kids work in crews that can boast up to 15 people at a time. These use lookouts–a strategy built up from the street drug industry. Other patterns describe a preferred time window. Generally when the temperature rises during the summer, activity increases as with most other crimes. And at night the busiest “bombing” times are between 2:00 a.m. and 4:00 a.m., a preferred time when most people are asleep.

The last pattern is useful in establishing preventative measures. Taggers as they are called, prefer easy-to-reach areas, usually under 5 feet. But if a wall, sign or other surface is easy to climb up to, that will do even better because it commands more attention.

So, some things that are helpful in preventing graffiti are:

• Keeping your property well maintained
• Covering up walls with vegetation
• Using thorny bushes to block access
• Choosing a black, gray or mixed-tone mural covering which reduces the visibility of the graffiti.

Other preventative measures include:

• Education for kids and the community
• Removal within the first 24 to 48 hours to reduce taggers effectiveness in communication
• Rewards of $200-$500 offered by the city

Report It

It’s important to report graffiti because of it’s negative effect on the neighborhood. It decreases aesthetics, lowers property values and attracts criminal activity. Most importantly, graffiti is a gang communication tool. Removing graffiti takes away this power.

If you see someone in the process of writing graffiti call 911. Do not approach them. (See photo.) If you see graffiti after the fact, complete an online report at the address below or call 311 and the agent will file a report for you.


MSWR handles all cleanup and is always looking for volunteers. If you see graffiti photograph it and send your photo to the city. Doing so reduces the removal rate from ten to five days.

If your property becomes a target of graffiti you have two options:

• Remove or paint over it within 10 days OR
• Wait 10 days and the city will remove it for you, and you will pay the removal cost.

More Information and Tips

The City of Minneapolis website is: