Campus battles rise in graffiti

The Campus Public Safety Office at Portland State has filed 17 reports so far this year related to graffiti, fast approaching the total of 24 graffiti listings last year.

The Campus Public Safety Office at Portland State has filed 17 reports so far this year related to graffiti, fast approaching the total of 24 graffiti listings last year. Seven instances were reported in May alone.

Officers speculate that graffiti writers could be catching on to the visibility and traffic of the campus’ downtown location.

“I chose PSU because there’s lots of college students who are going to see tags and take interest,” said one Portland man who wrote graffiti that was documented in the May reports.

His “tag,” or signature, is Busk, and he associates with YM (Young and Malicious) and several other local writing groups. 

The increase of graffiti at PSU is part of a citywide trend, according to Officer Matt Miller, a head graffiti investigator at the Portland Police Bureau. He estimates that $5 million is spent annually on fighting graffiti in Portland.

“You talk to any citizens, 50 or 60 percent of them would probably tell you graffiti is a problem,” he said. “You talk to nine out of 10 business owners in this city, and they would tell you it’s a major problem.”

Sergeant Dwight Waldo of the San Bernardino, Calif., police department visited Portland to train Miller’s unit in early May. An international graffiti expert, Waldo noticed that the problem of graffiti in Portland has grown since his last visit five years ago.

He attributed the rise of graffiti to what he sees as a tendency by mainstream culture to embrace the fringe.

“Kids see it more and more becoming a part of pop culture,” he said. “They don’t think they’ll be prosecuted, even though they’ve done tens of thousands of dollars worth of damage.”

PSU’s urban campus is well situated to fulfill the visibility goals of graffiti writers, Waldo said.

“If you talk to a tagger, they will tell you it’s all about fame,” he said.

CPSO officers are becoming more versed in collaboratively fighting graffiti, sharing reports that Miller uses to build ongoing investigations.

“They’re hard to catch,” CPSO Sergeant Gary Smeltzer said of graffiti writers. “It’s kind of a hit-and-run type of crime.”

While graffiti on campus is sometimes the work of known vandals, at least two arrests this year have involved PSU students.

Art student Jordan Trujillo marked the campus with more than 40 tags and was arrested in February. Andrew Derocher, a third-year student majoring in liberal sciences, is awaiting his June 10 court date after he was arrested for vandalism in early May.

Derocher declined to comment because his case is still open, but he indicated that he’s not a veteran graffiti writer.

“I don’t notice graffiti more than anybody else,” he said. “It’s just letters to me.”

PSU Facilities and Planning is responsible for removing campus graffiti, sometimes hiring outside contractors to eliminate especially tough tags. Head Gardener Suzan Wilson estimated that PSU spends about $150,000 a year on graffiti removal.

Landscapers recently planted thorny bushes around the campus’ west heating complex to discourage taggers who enjoyed the building’s visibility to traffic on I-405.

The graffiti writer known as Berserk, now facing possible felony charges related to his citywide vandalism, tagged the heating plant last December.

“I’m an artist. How can they tell me not to paint?” he said.

Beserk suggested that less money be spent on graffiti cleanup at PSU and in Portland.

“There’s volunteers that’ll do it. All the fools that hate graffiti—they’ll do it for free,” he said. ?