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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)


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.

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