Bill Toughening Graffiti Penalties Is Law
Convicted graffiti vandals will face tougher penalties under a bill sponsored by Queens Councilmembers Eric Gioia and Peter Vallone Jr., which was signed into law last week by Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
The mayor also signed into law a second anti-graffiti measure which was cosponsored by Gioia and Vallone Jr. and other Queens lawmakers. The second statute adds etching acid cream to the items restricted from sale to minors along with aerosol spray paint and broad tipped markers. All three items can be used to commit acts of graffiti vandalism.
Among the other sponsors of the legislation invoking tougher penalties were Queens Democrats Joseph Addabbo Jr. (Ozone Park), Melinda Katz (Forest Hills), John Liu (Flushing), Helen Sears, (Jackson Heights), David Weprin (Hollis) and Republican Dennis Gallagher (Middle Village).
Supporters of the etching acid cream bill from Queens were Councilmembers Tony Avella (Bayside), Leroy Comrie (Jamaica), James Gennaro (Jamaica Estates) and Addabbo. All are Democrats.
In signing the two new laws, the mayor pointed out, "Graffiti vandalism is one of the most visible offenses against the city’s quality of life and that is why it is so important to target its reduction." No neighborhood in the city should have to tolerate graffiti, the mayor noted, as it leads to more serious crimes.
Gioia added, "Graffiti is a serious crime and should be punished as such. By strengthening penalties for those who do graffiti repeatedly, we are getting tough on graffiti."
Vallone Jr., chair of the Public Safety Committee, stated that enactment of the two anti-graffiti statutes shows that the city council is ensuring strong anti-graffiti laws are in place.
He added that the New York Police Department, the district attorneys and the mayor’s criminal justice coordinator will continue to work together to make sure that graffiti violations are vigorously prosecuted.
The mayor said that during the past year, a multi-agency, citywide graffiti clean-up ordered by him had done over 1,100 separate cleanups throughout the city. This activity would continue, he said.
The bill introduced by Gioia and Vallone and signed by the mayor increases the penalty for a person convicted as a repeat graffiti violator from a Class B to a Class A misdemeanor. This will double the penalties for the repeat violators to a fine of $1,000 and imprisonment of not more than one year.
In addition, any person previously convicted of a graffiti violation will now be liable for a civil penalty of not more than $1,000 for each violation, the mayor said.
The second bill signed by the mayor prevents the sale of etching acid cream to any person under 18 years of age and makes the illegal sale or use of etching acid cream a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $500 and/or imprisonment of up to three months. The law puts etching acid cream in the same category as spray paint and broad-tipped markers.
The mayor explained, "Not only does etching acid destroy glass and metal, but because of its caustic nature, it presents a danger to those who come in physical contact with it. This includes unwary members of the public who may be exposed to the chemical, which remains on the surface until it is cleansed."
The legislation increasing penalties for graffiti convictions came out of an investigation by the Committee on Oversight and Investigations, which is chaired by Gioia. The probe found minors can easily purchase cans of spray paint and broad-tipped markers at many hardware stores in th city. The law increases the penalties for anyone previously convicted of graffiti offenses, whether defacing property or selling aerosol spray paint cans or broadtipped indelible markers to persons less than 18 years of age.
Speaking of the etching acid measure, Vallone pointed out, "In New York City it is illegal to deface any property by writing, painting or drawing any inscription of any type without permission of the property owner. It is also illegal to carry any aerosol spray can or broad-tipped indelible marker into a public building with the intent to scribble graffiti. There are also specific laws that apply to the sale and display of aerosol spray paint and broad-tipped indelible markers, and the sale of etching acid [cream] will be treated similarly."
Gioia has made the effort to combat graffiti and eliminate graffiti vandalism one of his primary concerns since taking office a year ago. He has purchased a graffiti-cleaning power washer to implement his graffiti-removal efforts, which are done in cooperation with community volunteers.
"As someone who grew up in this neighborhood, I understand the problem of graffiti all too well. Vandalizing people’s property is a crime. By implementing stricter penalties for those who do graffiti, and by regulating etching acid cream, we can and will reclaim this neighborhood from graffiti," Gioia said.
Vallone has also led graffiti cleanups in his council district covering Astoria, Long Island City and part of Jackson Heights.
"Graffiti vandals must realize that their mindless pastime will only cost them more money, if caught, and also more time behind bars," Vallone Jr. said. "And if we have to further toughen these laws, we will."