North Las Vegas City Council members debated everything from restricting the sale of paint sticks to fining a juvenile offender’s parents in a discussion about what the city can do to send a stronger message against graffiti.
City Attorney Jeffrey Barr presented the city with five suggestions: Restrict paint sticks (alternatives to spray paint); outlaw possession of graffiti tools on city property; add a community service requirement; increase parental responsibility; and change the city code to spell out that it is the responsibility of the property owner to clean up the graffiti.
City Council members and Barr addressed the potential pros and cons of each suggestion, including undue hardship on parents, expense, hardship on business owners and greater involvement with the juvenile justice system while balancing youth accountability and blight cleanup.
Mayor Shari Buck said curbing graffiti needs to be a priority and that she has heard from frustrated business owners.
“They (those creating graffiti) are caught and released right away, so property owners see the same kids coming back and coming back,” Buck said.
One of two people in the city who officially oversee graffiti cleanup, community service program supervisor Steve Rehberger said the use of paint sticks is growing. Because paint sticks are more easily concealed and carried, he said people are not tagging just one wall but are hitting every traffic box, pole and street sign along the route, causing more damage and cost. Rehberger said stickers are a growing problem, too.
Barr pushed for a proposal to outlaw carrying graffiti materials such as paint and stickers on city property. “There is no legitimate reason to have it,” he said.
But City Councilman Robert Eliason argued that restricting the sale and use of paint will hurt only people legitimately using the materials and not those committing the crime. Barr argued that it is important for the city to have strong laws in place regardless.
“Are there people that will break the law? Yes. We have laws against speeding, and people still speed,” Barr said. “Can we make it perfect? No. Your code is a reflection of your values.”
Rehberger said one of his department’s biggest setbacks in addressing the issue are resources. City Councilman Wade Wagner said he liked the possibility of forcing youths to help with the graffiti cleanup to add more resources to the city and hopefully teach them a lesson. Rehberger said that typically, his department supervises 20 to 30 youths a year as they clean up graffiti and would like that number to be higher. “The ideal world is when we put the cost back on the parent,” Barr said, adding that the city does not have jurisdiction over youths, just adults.
North Las Vegas Police Department Captain Justin Roberts said most of the tagging is no longer gang-related, but there are tagging crews that cause damage repeatedly. He said they have had $30,000 to $50,000 in damage attached to one person creating graffiti, but often the parents are unresponsive because they have a limited income.
Barr said he left the discussion with direction to talk with the local juvenile justice system first and develop an ordinance suggestion in the next 60 to 90 days.
Contact Centennial and North Las Vegas View reporter Laura Phelps at email@example.com or 702-477-3839.