At a devastating clip, a new brand of graffiti vandals is hitting Detroit’s small businesses, historic and occupied buildings, freeway signs, church sanctuaries, houses and cars.
After years of lax enforcement, the city is preparing to fight back.
Police Chief James Craig will hear a proposal this week to create a task force of up to four officers solely dedicated to cracking down on the proliferation of graffiti, which is driving down property values, discouraging investment and costing building owners thousands of dollars apiece.
“I’m meeting with the chief on Tuesday to show him where the funding is and see if he can free up some officers,” Detroit Chief Operating Officer Gary Brown to us.
“I have never seen it as bad as it has become in downtown and the neighborhoods.”
Mayor Mike Duggan, who cracked down on graffiti when he was the Wayne County prosecutor, also met with authorities to discuss a plan.
The cost to remove graffiti is often so steep that investors usually don’t bother.
Graffiti vandals caused an estimated $50,000 in damage to a historically significant building in southwest Detroit, hindering renovation plans for two nonprofits, said Kari Smith, project manager of Urban Neighborhood Initiatives, which revitalizes areas of the city.
The 91-year-old brick building at 2026 Lawndale was originally a church before becoming a Masonic Temple and then a Moose Lodge.
“It’s hard for investors to see the value of a space if there is graffiti all over it,” Smith said.
“I think the fact that Gary Brown and the Mayor met with the chief about this issue is a good indication that the EM is concerned about addressing this issue and he believes the chief is trying to find a way to make such a task force happen,” EM spokesman Bill Nowling said.
Richard Bennett, who owns an art studio in the Cass Corridor, said a task force can’t come soon enough. His building gets hammered with graffiti.
“As soon as I paint over it, the graffiti comes back in a few days,” Bennett said.
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Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.