62°F
weather icon Partly Cloudy

North Las Vegas tracks graffiti: ‘It’s an all-out battle’

Point anywhere on the map in North Las Vegas and you can bet city graffiti crew leader Scott Nichols has been there.

Nichols — known to taggers as a “buffer” — has worked for more than 20 years painting over and washing graffiti off of walls, poles and anything else that can be sprayed. And yes, Nichols sees messages written on walls asking, “Who is painting (over) this?”

“These kids don’t know that people like me exist yet,” he said while painting over graffiti on a large utility box in Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument, near Shadow Ridge High School.

The city’s number of graffiti cases is at its lowest since 2016, according to data from North Las Vegas. Last year, there were 54,659 cases totaling 80 acres; that has fallen to 33,398 cases totaling 57 acres through October this year. Nichols attributes that to an increased number of employees and efficiency from the department’s mobile app, Contact North Las Vegas, which allows residents to take a photo of graffiti and submit it to workers.

Nichols started with the city of North Las Vegas in the mail room, and his interest in painting over graffiti was sparked when he saw another employee doing just that.

The joy he felt starting the job in his 20s is still there.

“It’s the excitement of cleaning up the city and people noticing,” Nichols said. “The joy of getting a pat on the back, it’s satisfying … and you’re not stuck in the office.”

Graffiti department employees also serve a public safety role.

While driving through the Upper Las Vegas Wash and Detention Basin, Nichols searches not only for graffiti, but for people residing in stretches of dark tunnels.

Some don’t have phones and won’t know rain will be coming, endangering them, Nichols said.

“I always keep my eye out for someone just in case,” he said.

Thousands of cases

“It’s an all-out battle,” said Tom Martens, manager of the code enforcement and graffiti departments with the city. “I tell everyone we go to war every day.”

He said graffiti removal reduces crime and positively affects children’s environment. During the recent recession, Nichols was the only person tasked with covering up graffiti; as a result, Martens said, the downtown area was riddled in graffiti.

“No matter what we did, we couldn’t keep up,” Martens said.

The North Las Vegas graffiti department has grown to five full-time employees. Together they remove about 1,100-1,200 taggings a week, according to Martens. The department’s annual operating budget is $860,000.

Their jobs don’t just require removing graffiti, but also contacting homeowners associations, business owners and homeowners to remind them to paint or to work with them if graffiti happens often.

Martens credits the city’s app with increasing response time to graffiti – especially those that are vulgar. It has also helped the department prosecute cases, as it records graffiti dating to 2014.

When a prolific tagger is caught, the department then has a record of his or her past works — which adds up in fines. Municipal fines are, on average, $135 per graffiti tag removed. Each additional violation can cost up to $1,000.

The fines cover the costs of equipment, paint and restitution.

To improve efficiency, the North Las Vegas City Council unanimously approved a request to provide the graffiti division its own software module for $10,135 at its meeting Nov. 20. Currently, the graffiti and code enforcement divisions share a program that stores more than 200,000 graffiti cases, according to city documents.

“The large amount of graffiti cases and the lack of specialized reports require graffiti removal staff to spend excessive amounts of time pulling reports and creating estimates,” city documents state. “Purchasing this module and services significantly reduces the time graffiti removal staff uses to search property addresses, field reports, and create graffiti cost estimates that aid in the prosecution of graffiti.”

The software will aid the city in prosecution and streamline paperwork the graffiti department has to complete, Martens said following the meeting.

Custom trucks

Driving around North Las Vegas, it’s hard to find swaths of graffiti.

That means the graffiti team is doing its job, Nichols said, adding that it tries to match the original color of structures when they are painting. Nichols, as the city’s graffiti crew leader, coordinates where team members will be around the city. He also helps educate the community about graffiti.

Recently, the graffiti department received a new pickup truck and outfitted it with long hoses and two reels. It also has a toolbox and a hydraulic pump. The goal is to someday replace the other five trucks in the fleet and also outfit them with pressure washers, Nichols said.

He hopes the city will be able to create a vehicle to combat graffiti and that it could be replicated in cities throughout the nation.

“Nobody has them, and the vehicles we have can be copied across the country,” Nichols said.

There’s room for improvement in Southern Nevada too, he added.

Nichols hopes someday to have a regional coalition of graffiti departments, with members from North Las Vegas, Las Vegas and Clark County.

Such a coalition once existed but was disbanded, according to Nichols. A group like that could share best techniques and strategies and share information on taggers.

“I think that could benefit everyone,” he said.

Contact Alex Chhith at achhith@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0290. Follow @alexchhith on Twitter.

What is graffiti?

It’s defined by state law as “any unauthorized inscription, word, figure or design that is marked, etched, scratched, drawn, painted on or affixed to the public or private property, real or personal, of another, including, without limitation, an estray or one or more head of livestock, which defaces the property.”

How to report graffiti

Visit cityofnorthlasvegas.com, call 702-633-1871, email codeenforcement@cityofnorthlasvegas.com or use the city’s app, Contact North Las Vegas.

Number of graffiti cases

2016: 34,600 cases totaling 2,997,617 square feet, or 69 acres

2017: 43,073 cases totaling 2,015,491 square feet, or 46 acres

2018: 54,659 cases totaling 3,514,796 square feet, or 80 acres

2019: 33,398 cases totaling 2,500,000 square feet, or 57 acres (through October)

Fines

Municipal fines are, on average, $135 per graffiti tag removed. Each additional violation can cost up to $1,000.

The fines cover the costs of equipment, paint and restitution, according to the city of North Las Vegas.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Local Videos
Incident with 'suspicious device' resolved - VIDEO
Lt. Zachary Burns of the Las Vegas police department's armor section gives an update on the suspicious device found at a Saver's store in the 2300 block of East Tropicana Avenue on Monday, Jan. 20, 2020. (Glenn Puit/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Elderly woman robbed in Fremont elevator - VIDEO
An elderly woman was robbed in an elevator on the 300 block of Fremont Street. Video courtesy of Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. (James Schaeffer/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Martin Luther King Jr. associate speaks to Las Vegas students - VIDEO
Robert Green, 86, a Las Vegas resident and close confidante of Martin Luther King Jr., talks to students at Matt Kelly Elementary School in Las Vegas. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Helicopter pilot continues long recovery after Grand Canyon crash - VIDEO
Scott Booth, a former pilot for Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters, talks about piloting a Papillon tour helicopter when the aircraft crashed in Grand Canyon in 2018, killing five of the six passengers. (Erik Verduzco/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Annual eagle survey at Lake Mead and Lake Mohave - VIDEO
The National Park Service gets out on the waters of Lake Mead and Lake Mohave each year to count any raptors they lay eyes on. The birds are at the top of a food chain, so monitoring their numbers over time can help indicate if problems are occurring with the environment and the rest of the chain below them. (Ellen Schmidt/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Wrong-way driver causes fatal crash near Las Vegas airport, authorities say - VIDEO
A suspected impaired motorist driving the wrong way on the Airport Connector caused a crash that killed another driver near McCarran International Airport early Friday morning, Jan. 17, 2020, according to law enforcement. (Glenn Puit/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas police give details on officer-involved shooting - VIDEO
Las Vegas police identified the officer and show body cam video of the officer who discharged his weapon at a suspect accused of shooting his mother at a credit union, Friday, Jan. 17, 2020. (Renee Summerout/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
1 person killed in wrong-way crash near Las Vegas airport - VIDEO
A wrong-way driver struck another vehicle, killing that driver, on the Airport Connector near McCarran International Airport early Friday, Jan. 17, 2020. (Glenn Puit/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sombrero wearing pigeons found - VIDEO
Sombrero wearing pigeons found in Reno by City Manager Sabra Newby during a ride-along with parking enforcement. (Renee Summerour/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Alpine fire first responders recognized
MedicWest paramedic Miranda Smith describes the the scene when first responders arrived at the Alpine Motel Apartments fire.
The car that Tupac was shot in is for sale - VIDEO
The vehicle that legendary rapper Tupac Shakur was riding in when he was shot after a boxing match in Las Vegas is up for auction. The black 1996 BMW 7 Series is listed by Celebrity Cars Las Vegas for $1.75 million. (Angus Kelly/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
SUV crashes into art piece at Eastern and 215 Beltway - VIDEO
Artwork of a giant head was sent rolling when an SUV slammed into the artwork installed on a median at Eastern Avenue and the 215 Beltway in the southern Las Vegas Valley on Saturday morning, Jan. 11, 2020. (B.J. Calomay)
Alpine residents struggle to find new housing after fire - VIDEO
Many residents displaced by the Alpine Motel Apartments fire in downtown Las Vegas say they are struggling to find long-term solutions in a region where affordable housing is in short supply. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Biden meets with Vegas Latino community - VIDEO
Presidential candidate Joe Biden met with members of the Latino community at Rancho High School. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Margaret Rudin's first interview after release from prison
Convicted killer Margaret Rudin maintains her innocence in her first interview after spending 20 years in a Las Vegas prison for the murder of her husband, Ron Rudin.
Locals cheer on James Holzhauer at 'Jeopardy!' watch party - VIDEO
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But James Holzhauer would have a better chance at winning “Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time” tournament if Ken Jennings would stop copying his aggressive betting strategy. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Henderson, other Nevada cities consent to refugee resettlement - VIDEO
Henderson will continue to welcome refugees for resettlement, according to a December letter from Mayor Debra March. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Ceremony held for Elvis artist Trent Carlini - VIDEO
A ceremony was held for Elvis impersonator Trent Carlini on Wednesday night at The Space in Las Vegas. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas bus attack caught on video
Video released Metro shows two men talking on a bus on Dec. 13, 2019. A few seconds into the video, the younger man stands up and punches the older man in the face. (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)
Fire at Bella Vite Apartments in central Las Vegas - VIDEO
No one was injured in a fire at Bella Vita Apartments, near West Flamingo Road and South Decatur Boulevard, early Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. (Glenn Puit/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
North Las Vegas police release details of first fatal officer-involved shooting of 2020 - VIDEO
North Las Vegas Police Chief Pamela Ojeda discusses details of the departments first fatal officer-involved shooting for 2020. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
One person injured in car crash outside Dutch Bros - VIDEO
One person suffered minor injuries in a crash Monday morning outside a southern Las Vegas coffee shop that left one vehicle on its side and another propped up on the overturned car. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas resorts welcome dogs to stay
Las Vegas properties are welcoming dogs more than ever. MGM Resorts International announced a new dog-friendly program across all of its Las Vegas properties in December. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
CES 2020 Sex Tech
What sex technology to look out for this year at CES 2020 Las Vegas
Las Vegas police respond to multi-vehicle crash with serious injuries - VIDEO
Las Vegas police are responding to a multi-vehicle with serious injuries near a Henderson park on Wednesday evening. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
2020 New Year's baby born at Sunrise Hospital - VIDEO
Marquis Johnson Sr. and Latasha Atkinson talk about their newborn baby, Marquis Jr., at Sunrise Children's Hospital in Las Vegas, Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2020. Marquis Jr. was born a few seconds past midnight to be the first baby of 2020 at Sunrise. (Erik Verduzco/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Palos Verdes fire on New Year's Day - VIDEO
A fire broke out in an apartment building on Palos Verdes near Spring Mountain Road in central Las Vegas early Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2010. (Glenn Puit/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
New Year’s Fireworks on the Las Vegas Strip - VIDEO
Fireworks explode over the Las Vegas Strip to celebrate the new year of 2020. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Crowds gather at Bellagio fountains on New Year's Eve - VIDEO
Aaron Drawhorn talks live with people in front of the Bellagio fountains on New Year's Eve.
Final farewells to Alpine Motel Hero
Family members and friends say their final farewells to Don Bennett, a maintenance man and hero of the Alpine Motel Apartments fire, following a funeral service at Heritage Mortuary on Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019, in North Las Vegas.
A decade on the Las Vegas Strip in 75 seconds
A look back at 10 years of happenings on the Las Vegas Strip.
Musk 'hopeful' for 2020 completion of underground Las Vegas project - VIDEO
Elon Musk tweeted Friday night that The Boring Company’s underground tunnel project in Las Vegas will be “hopefully fully operational” within the next year. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Fremont Street is getting a new LED sign - VIDEO
The Fremont Street Experience is planning to add an LED sign that pays tribute to downtown Las Vegas’ history. The 430-square-foot sign is set to be built on the east side of Main Street and Fremont Street. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Ethel M Chocolates cactus garden lit for Christmas - Video
The 26th Annual Ethel M Chocolates Cactus Garden Lighting in Henderson, Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019. The garden will be open until 10 p.m. daily through the holidays. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @rookie__rae
Therapy dogs dress up for Halloween at Poets Walk Henderson - Video
Therapy dogs dress up for a Halloween costume contest at the Poet's Walk Henderson Memory Care facility. (Nathan Asselin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
THE LATEST