Getting Under The Hood With Grafitti (A Look At The Numbers)

What do arrests for graffiti charges really "look" like in the Bronx? To get an idea, we found out as much as we could about all 117 cases for 2007 so far that contained a graffiti charge. Read below to see what we found out.

First, these cases come from all over the borough. While some precincts stood out (especially the 52nd Precinct, covering University Heights, Fordham, Bedford Park, Norwood and the 43rd, covering Soundview and Castle Hill), all twelve precincts were a significant source of cases.

Second, two-thirds of these cases received Bronx Community Service dispositions. The District Attorney has a standing policy of recommending conditional discharge with five days of community service for many graffiti cases. We found that community service sentences ranged from two to ten and averaged 4.6 days. In addition to community service, 10% of the cases that went to us also included a requirement of social service.

This was a pleasant surprise for us. That means that a lot of graffiti offenders are performing community service that is directly paying back for the harm they have committed: Our "Tag Team" graffiti initiative works in partnership with the NYPD to repair graffiti damage at over twenty sites across the Bronx.

Other sanctions in graffiti cases included jail (20 days-6 months), fines or restitution ($500-$595), or probation (1 year). Some cases had not yet had sentenced imposed, or had been given straight conditional discharges, usually at the same time the defendant was pleading to a top charge or a more serious case.

One thing we were interested to learn from the Bronx District Attorney is that some vocal Bronx residents think "graffiti criminals" are not getting punished enough. In high profile cases of notorious artists, community residents are often demanding stiff jail sentences. I wonder if this is a problem that has a "power law" or a "bell curve" distribution, that is best addressed by focusing on a small number of the most serious cases or by working with the broad middle of the population. It's true that the high profile artists are prolific and do a great deal of property damage individually. However, I think that the true effect of graffiti is in its pervasiveness and its cumulative impact. Winning a high jail sentence for a handful of cases is important, but I'm glad we're experimenting with more meaningful sentences for the other 110 cases.

We're going to start by doing two things right away. We'll systematically flag all graffiti cases that go to Bronx Community Solutions for graffiti-specific community service. And we'll include participation in a graffiti-focused community impact panel as a requirement of a defendant's mandate.