Security issue: Graffiti

From Securipedia
(Redirected from Security issue: Grafitti)
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Graffiti on a storefront in New York

Grafitti is the unpermitted defacement of property by means of writing or drawings scribbled, scratched, or sprayed on a surface in a public place without the consent of the owner or person in custody of or control over the object.


Motives for graffiti are various and the type of graffiti varies with the motives. A classification of types of graffiti with the associated features is presented in Their classification is presented in the table below.

Types of Graffiti and Associated Motives
Type of Graffiti Features Motives
Gang[1] Gang name or symbol, including hand signs Gang member name(s) or nickname(s), or sometimes a roll-call listing of member numbers[2]. Distinctive, stylized alphabets[3]. Key visible locations. Enemy names and symbols, or allies' names. Mark turf
Threaten violence
Boast of achievements
Honor the slain
Insult/taunt other gangs
Common Tagger[4] High-volume, accessible locations High-visibility, hard-to-reach locations May be stylized but simple name or nickname tag or symbols[5]. Tenacious (keep re-tagging). Notoriety or prestige
Defiance of authority.
Artistic Tagger Colourful and complex pictures known as masterpieces or pieces. Artistic Prestige or recognition
Conventional Graffiti: Spontaneous Sporadic episodes or isolated incidents. Play Rite of passage
Excitement, impulsive
Conventional Graffiti: Malicious or Vindictive Sporadic, isolated or systematic incidents. Anger
Ideological Offensive content or symbols Racial, ethnic or religious slurs Specific targets, such as synagogues. Highly legible Slogans. Anger

Contributing circumstances

Known circumstances to influence the likelihood or effect of graffiti, are presented in the table below:

Contributing Circumstance Influence Description
Shops in the area Increases likelihood of being selected target. Retailing and manufacturing premises have a much greater chance of falling victim to vandalism than domestic premises.[6]
Presence of adolescents Increases the number of potential offenders. Studies consistently find graffiti artist to be young (under 23, some studies point towards younger ages).[7]
Vulnerable objects in area Increases number of targets. Graffiti can appear almost any place open to public view, but graffiti artist show a preference for blank, smooth, light surfaces, which are visible and reachable. Examples of popular places are transportation systems and shelters, walls facing streets; street, freeway and traffic signs; statues and monuments and bridges. In addition, it appears on vending machines, park benches,utility poles, utility boxes, billboards, trees, streets, sidewalks, parking garages, schools, business and residence walls, garages, fences, and sheds[7].
High levels of graffiti in the vicinity Increases likelihood of targeting. Graffiti artists do not travel far for their work; typically these are locations of opportunity. This means that being close to an area with a high graffiti activity will increase the risk of graffiti, especially if there will be regular traffic flows between the areas.
Low level of social monitoring Decreases level of social correction. A decreased perceived risk of detection and correction decreases the perceived need for restraint of unwanted behaviour.
Low level of physical monitoring (e.g. cameras) Decreases likelihood of detection. This reduces the possibilities of intervening and increases the likelihood of the conflict escalating. Low levels of physical monitoring contributes to less enforcement of the law, which undermines other efforts to prevent assault and other crimes occurring.
Long reaction times or inadequate action of intervention force. Decreases likelihood of apprehension Untimely or inappropriate reactions to violence lead to a perception of little control, which will increase perceived risk for the public and decrease perceived risk for the perpetrators. Also, reducing the impact of an assault (by timely intervention) will also be impossible and lead to greater effects of incidents.
Incompatible zonings Increases of the likelihood of conflict. Incompatible zonings, and activities therein, can increase the likelihood of vulnerable groups and potential offenders meeting. The composition and compatibility of adjoining land uses should be sufficiently considered by urban planners.
High levels of unemployment Increases likelihood of targeting. High levels of unemployment are associated with higher levels of vandalism.[8]
Low levels of ownership Decreases the inhibitions for committing the crime. Uncertainty of ownership can reduce responsibility and increase the likelihood of crime and anti-social behaviour going unchallenged.[9]
Low levels of maintenance Decreases the inhibitions for committing the crime. Studies showed that low levels of maintenance and aesthetic quality are associated with high rates of vandalism.[10] Designing for easy maintenance and a (for the user) pleasing aesthetic appearance can therefore reduce the risk of graffiti.


Social impact

Defining urban graffiti as either ‘street art’ or ‘vandalism’ is a matter of debate. Graffiti in cities is simultaneously considered ‘mindless destruction of private property’ and also an ‘urban culture’ in its own right. However, known social impacts of "graffiti" include changing citizens perception of (in)security and fear of crime. This usually happens in a way that has an effect on the gap between "felt" and "factual" security, since individuals tend to make - correct or incorrect - reasoning on societal security as a whole based on immediate environmental clues. This is known as the "broken glass phenomenon".

In order to address the conflicts of opinion around graffiti, as well as its known social impact, in cities legal mural walls can be designated. These designated walls can encourage a higher standard of such ‘urban art’ and provide a legitimate space for engagement. Such spaces can signal creative quarters and can be marketed as tourist attractions.

Economic impact

As a type of vandalism, graffiti leads to considerable costs in both a direct (primary) and an indirect (secondary) way.[11] The direct economic impact of vandalism in general are for about 14% the result of preventive measures (security and insurance), and for 75% the result of physical damage and mental harm. The remaining part are costs in response to crime (detection and prevention, enforcement, trial, support)[12].

In general, the (direct) costs to repair, replace, and clean up property defaced by graffiti are paid for by the communities, private property owners, small business and public agencies.[13] Moreover, the presence of graffiti can trigger secondary economic impacts. Although most research studies conclude that criminal offences such as vandalism and graffiti can have a significant negative impact on real estate prices [14], there is still no real consensus on the extent of this impact. Moreover, graffiti (like vandalism) can have a negative impact on local businesses (as consumers decide to shop in other places), and can lead to the potential loss of funding for community organisation, youth groups and school programs.[13]

In theory, security measures can prevent vandalism, including graffiti but not without costs. Organised surveillance or target hardening, for example, is costly and there is always the risk of crime displacement.[15] With the help of economic tools such as social cost-benefit analysis it is possible to overview the costs and future benefits of security measures in order to decide which types of measures are best suited for a specific urban planning situation.

Mobility impact

Certain mobility objects are popular targets for graffiti, such as tunnels and fences near roads and railways or buses and railway vehicles. However, this doesn't cause a direct impact on mobility. It will only add costs for local governments and public transport companies as explained above in economic impacts, and may lead to reduced traffic safety as explained below for |safety impact.

Measures against grafiti on mobility objects are lighting near roads and stations or (camera) surveillance.

Safety impact

Graffiti on traffic signs may lead to dangerous situations as warnings can no longers be seen propperly.


Potential measures that can mitigate the likelihood or impact of graffiti include:

  • Target hardening by for example impregnating walls with paint-resistant coatings or making particularly attractive walls hard to reach can greatly increase the effort needed to vandalise the object and thereby reduce the attractiveness of an object.
  • Surveillance can be effective to detect crime and if overt, to deter potential criminals by raising the perceived risk of apprehension. It can incur high costs if implemented as dedicated observers, either on location or remote. A more natural form of surveillance is surveillance by the inhabitants (also known as 'natural surveillance'), which can also be effective, provided that the commercial area is inhabited and the inhabitants have a good surveillability.
  • Intervention force is needed to make detection measures, such as alarms or surveillance, effective.
  • Directing traffic flows can be effective in reducing the chance for potential graffiti artists to approach vulnerable areas, reducing the visibility of potential targets to criminals. By providing clear and logical routes through an area, unnecessary passing traffic can be avoided.
  • Target removal By removing the attractive elements of particularly vulnerable objects from high-risk locations, graffiti can in some case be effectively reduced. An example of doing this would be to make walls dark and irregular.
  • Ownership is an important aspect in the prevention of vandalism by creating a clear distinction between public and private space. By providing a clear distinction between public and private property, unwanted entry is more easily detected and requires a greater mental effort which reduces the number of opportunities for crime.
  • Maintenance and designing for easy maintenance can be used as the removal of a crime motivator, as deterioration can be an incentive to various forms of crime. Consistent and quick removal of graffiti will discourage repeat offenders, although some can be tenacious.
  • Deflection
    Dedicated wall for graffiti in Barcelona, Spain
    : providing a legal place to perform graffiti paintings may reduce the inconvenience for the surrounding area.

Footnotes and references

  1. Copycat graffiti looks like gang graffiti, and may be the work of gang wanna-be's or youths seeking excitement.
  2. Offenders commonly use numbers as code in gang graffiti. A number may represent the corresponding position in the alphabet (e.g., 13 = M, for the Mexican Mafia), or represent a penal or police radio code.
  3. Stylized alphabets include bubble letters, block letters, backwards letters, and Old English script.
  4. Tagbangers, a derivative of tagging crews and gangs, are characterized by competition with other crews. Thus crossed-out tags are features of their graffiti
  5. The single-line writing of a name is usually known as a tag, while slightly more complex tags, including those with two colours or bubble letters, are known as throw-ups.
  6. Mirrlees-Black Curiona and Ross Alec, Crime against retail and manufacturing premises: findings from the 1994 Commercial Victimisation Survey, Home Office Research Study 146, copyright 1995, ISBN 1 85893 554 7
  7. 7.0 7.1 Lamm Weisel Deborah, Graffiti, Problem-Oriented Guides for Police, Guide No. 9
  8. Kepple NJ, Freisthler B., Exploring the ecological association between crime and medical marijuana dispensaries.,J Stud Alcohol Drugs. 2012 Jul;73(4):523-30
  9. Home Office, Safer Places. The planning system and crime prevention, 2004
  10. Goldstein, Arnold P., Controlling Vandalism: The Person-Environment Duet, School oriented interventions, pp 290-321
  11. Primary economic impact (or direct effects) are generally defined as the initial, immediate economic output generated by a specific cause (in this case a criminal offence). Secondary economic impact (or indirect effects) are generated each time a subsequent transaction is made, for example, the impact of crime on the real estate value in the neighbourhood.
  12. SEO Economic Research (2007): De kosten van criminaliteit [The cost of crime].
  13. 13.0 13.1 Graffiti Hurts Australia (2008) or the American version. Online:
  14. See, e.g. Ihlanfeldt, K & T. Mayock (2009): Crime and Housing Prices; Gibbons, S. (2004): The Costs of urban property crime; or Linden, L and J. Rockoff (2008): Estimates of the Impact of Crime Risk on Property Values from Megan’s Laws.
  15. The relocation of crime from one place, time, target, offence, or tactic to another as a result of some crime prevention initiative. Source Guerette,R.T. (2009): Analyzing Crime Displacement and Diffusion. Tool Guide No. 10.