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City's Graffiti Busters Curb Tagging in Local Neighborhoods

A team of five men with two trucks responded to about 2,500 tagged sites this year in 23 neighborhoods throughout the city.

Walking through West Roxbury, Marc Abelard has noticed more graffiti on storefronts, on the sides of buildings and throughout his neighborhood in general. In the last eight months, he says, tags have gotten bigger and the taggers have grown bolder.

“My fear is if it's not curbed, it’s going to spread to individual homes,” Abelard said.

Too late. It already has. And Charlestown, like West Roxbury, has also seen an increase in graffiti.

Enter Michael Bartosiak, executive director for the city’s Property Management and Construction department, and the leader of Boston’s Graffiti Busters: a team of five men with two trucks who scrub away the spray paint on commercial and residential buildings in 23 neighborhoods throughout the city.

West Roxbury is actually on the low end, with only 15 tags between July 2011 and July 2012. Back Bay and Jamaica Plain, on the other hand, are two of the most tagged neighborhoods, with 267 and 266 responses, respectively. The South End falls in the middle with 108; Fenway with 54; the North End with 49; Charlestown with 32 and Beacon Hill with 19.

There's usually an uptick in the summer (apparently taggers don't enjoy standing outside on a 10-degree winter night with a can of spray paint) and in the fall when students return, particularly in the Fenway, Back Bay and Mission Hill neighborhoods.

"We all hope they grow out of that fad, but you have a whole new group the next year," he said.

Back Bay is also an ideal target because it's easy to hide in all the dark alleys or duck behind a car. It often helps when locals step up to the plate – like the , who have taken neighborhood graffiti into their own hands and are even trying to get motion-sensor cameras installed on buildings where tagging is known to take place.

Bartosiak, who has been involved since the city program began in 1995, said overall graffiti has decreased as a result of a better response rate and more people reporting incidents.

You can call the mayor's 24-hour hotline at 617-635-4500 to report tags. The Citizens Connect service, where people can report graffiti directly to the city over their phone , has played a big role in decreasing tags.

“It comes right to my desk,” Bartosiak said. And if it's not something his department handles, he can pass it on to the Parks and Recreation Department if it’s a park bench that’s been vandalized, or the MBTA if it’s a road sign.

The Graffiti Busters deal primarily with tags on residential and commercial buildings, saving local businesses and residents big bucks.

If someone paints a dirty word across your front door, the special removal solution alone costs about $500, and it could run upwards of $1,000 to call someone to take care of it. The city does it for free – and they do it a lot.

Last year they responded to about 2,500 sites with tags that ranged from one square foot, to 50 feet long and 10 feet high, Bartosiak said. They’ll get rid of it within 30 days, but will respond immediately for anything that’s racial or offensive.

“Some people don’t know we exist,” Bartosiak said. “I still hear that after 17 years. It’s a free program, and it’s your tax dollars going back to you.”

However, he wants to remind people to be as specific as possible when reporting an incident. It’s not uncommon for the team to receive a wrong address or to go to a site and overlook graffiti that’s small and hard to see. In other words, if something is painted on your 2-by-2 inch windowsill, say so when reporting it. Don’t just mark ‘other’ and hope they find it.

Much of the success has been because of the support from the community.

“They believe in the program, he said, "because when they call it in, we show up and get the job done."

Number of sites the Graffiti Busters have cleaned up, by neighborhood:

FY 2012 FY 2011 Jamaica Plain 266 114 Back Bay 267 168 South End 108 49 Fenway 54 106 North End 49 35 Charlestown 32 28 Beacon Hill 19 37 West Roxbury 15 16

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