Tag…You’re It! How to Remove Graffiti—and Keep it Off

While nowhere near as prevalent as it was in the 1980s (when it seemed as if one couldn’t find a clean wall in the city), graffiti has never completely disappeared from Chicago...or any metro area, for that matter. In fact, the city’s sanitation department gets between 80,000 and 100,000 graffiti complaints every year, and spends $5 million removing it.

The Oxford Dictionary defines graffiti as “writing or drawing scribbled, scratched, or sprayed illicitly on a wall or other surface in a public place.” Most of it is “tagging,” a name spray-painted on a wall, often put up in lightning speed.

Speed is the operative word. 

Tim McCahill, owner and founder of McCahill Painting Company, which operates Chicagoland Graffiti Removal, recalls an instance of quick-draw tagging on the wall of a church. “The guy walked up, grabbed something out of his bag, tagged the building—with the security cameras on—and then kept walking. Very brazen, on film, and they knew it. Half a block down somebody picked him up in a car…and they’re gone.” 

The vandal’s speed is why so few are arrested. “It’s a difficult crime to catch somebody in the act of doing because it happens so quickly,” Police Commander William Dunn told the Chicago Tribune. The city recently more than doubled the fine for graffiti vandalism, raising it to $1,500 to $2,500, and increased the maximum fine against parents of minors convicted of graffiti vandalism to $1,000. In 2013, however, just 3,000 people were charged with criminal defacement, and of those, only 350 were hit with charges. 

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