Design Your Way to a Graffiti-Free Campus

You might not have the ability or resources to directly influence the root causes of gang activity, but there are some environmental design techniques that dissuade taggers from displaying their street art at your hospital, school or university.

Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) is one way campus officials can create an environment that discourages graffiti. This technique makes it more inviting to legitimate users and uninviting to illegitimate users or criminals. “You’re using physical design to modify human behavior,” says George Patak, operations manager for the Detroit office of Wackenhut Corp. He recommends thwarting gang activity and graffiti normally found in isolated areas by creating activity generators, such as kiosks, vending machines, food service areas, retail establishments and public art.

“It could be anything that causes the legitimate user to pause for just a second and observe what you have there,” he says. “When you do that, you have eyes on that area for a longer amount of time, as opposed to someone who is just focused on getting from point A to point B.” An added benefit to some of these solutions is that they may be able to generate some much needed income.

Glass Walls Can Work Wonders
For hospitals, Patak recommends stationing people in places where they can see and be seen by others as they go about their daily routines. “You do this by creating a lot of open spaces,” he says. “For privacy, instead of erecting a brick wall, make it a glass wall. That way, people can observe their surroundings. Also, the criminal [thinks to himself], ‘There is someone who can see me if I steal this lady’s purse, so maybe I won’t.’” The same holds true for taggers.

The design of parking garages is critical, and should incorporate a lot of open spaces and glass walls. Elevators should also have glass walls so privacy is eliminated. Appropriate lighting, cameras, foot patrols and call boxes are ways to reinforce CPTED elements. Video analytics and motion detection might be appropriate for isolated areas prone to tagging.

Encouraging either foot traffic or vehicle traffic to slow in areas plagued with crime and graffiti helps to reduce the privacy a tagger needs to do his handy work. According to Patak, the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor had one area adjacent to it that had persistent problems with street gangs, transients and drug use. “Just by changing one of the streets to two-way from one-way slowed traffic down,” he says. “This gives people more time to observe their surroundings, and you’re going to have people looking over each others’ shoulders.”

Appreciate the Power of Appearances
Even if a hospital, school or university can’t drive traffic to its isolated areas, campus officials should ensure these locations look like they are used often. One way to do this is to regularly pick up trash and remove graffiti as soon as possible.

Beautification projects help discourage tagging too by removing the graffiti artist’s canvas. Painted murals on bridge abutments and freeway overpasses, as well as on walls prone to graffiti, can be very effective. Artwork on fire hydrants and traffic light controller boxes discourage tagging as well.

It should be noted, however, that art projects done by actual gang members can be problematic. Many just disguise their gang signs and incorporate them into the murals. “Don’t let the gang members do it,” says gang expert Richard Valdemar. “There is some art you can put up that is not gang affiliated. I would also have them submit some kind of sketch and make sure the mural looks like what they proposed.”

Other solutions that discourage tagging include:

  • Planting clinging vines that cover blank walls
  • Placing art or display booths along long corridors
  • Using graffiti resistant materials and paints
  • Erecting walls constructed of fluted block or fluted concrete forms
  • Installing barbed or razor wire to protect signs and billboards
  • Photographing and removing graffiti as soon as it appears

CPTED is a Step in the Right Direction
Although environmental design doesn’t address the core issues of gang activity, when implemented properly, these principles can go a long way toward thwarting graffiti and the potential crime that results from it.

A Surprising Solution: Sprinklers

Some campuses and businesses are using sprinkler systems to ward off taggers and other unwelcome visitors. According to the Pasadena Star News, Whittier, Calif.-based Mure Corp. had a motion-activated sprinkler system installed on one of its buildings, which virtually eliminated its graffiti problem.

Prior to the installation, the building would be tagged two or three times per week. In the past six months since the sprinkler system has been installed, however, the building hasn’t been hit once.

The sprinkler heads are mounted on the outer wall, 15 feet up, so taggers can’t reach them. They are spaced about 20 feet apart and are pointed straight down.

Another example of how campuses are deploying sprinklers to combat crime is the Alachua County (Fla.) Public Schools. The district uses its existing sprinkler system to discourage the homeless and others from coming on to the district’s campuses at night. “You can just turn the sprinklers on at a different time so they don’t want to stay there because the sidewalk is wet,” says Chief Alex Branaman. “They will then move onto the next place.”

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About the Author

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Robin has been covering the security and campus law enforcement industries since 1998 and is a specialist in school, university and hospital security, public safety and emergency management, as well as emerging technologies and systems integration. She joined CS in 2005 and has authored award-winning editorial on campus law enforcement and security funding, officer recruitment and retention, access control, IP video, network integration, event management, crime trends, the Clery Act, Title IX compliance, sexual assault, dating abuse, emergency communications, incident management software and more. Robin has been featured on national and local media outlets and was formerly associate editor for the trade publication Security Sales & Integration. She obtained her undergraduate degree in history from California State University, Long Beach.

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