By Alexander Dworkowitz
Chief James Tuller, the commanding officer of Patrol Borough Queens North, keeps an eye out for graffiti.
Tuller often speaks eagerly with Sgt. Anna Tortorici, crime prevention officer for Borough North, about combating tags, the signatures of graffiti vandals.
“He’ll call me from his car, saying, ‘I see a new tag,’” said Tortorici.
On Monday, Tuller and other police officials launched a new campaign to fight graffiti at an informational forum for both police and Queens residents at Queens Theater in the Park.
Northern Queens has been a hotbed of graffiti activity, police statistics show. In 2001, police made 404 graffiti arrests in northern Queens, which accounted for 32 percent of all arrests for the crime throughout the city.
This year four of the five city precincts which top the list of graffiti arrests are located in northern Queens, said Detective Keith Casey, graffiti coordinator for Patrol Borough Queens North.
While all agreed that graffiti has significantly decreased throughout Queens from 10 years ago, many at the forum thought the crime has increased recently.
Queens Borough President Helen Marshall said graffiti appeared to be on the rise in the borough, and Tuller as well as attendees at the forum agreed.
“For about two years it was kind of slow, but now it’s back again,” said Flushing resident Mary Anderson, who sits on the 109th Precinct Community Council.
Residents at the forum also complained that many business owners were lazy about cleaning graffiti off their stores.
Tuller said businesses should take it upon themselves to clean graffiti from their property.
“Businesses should be held accountable for what they look like,” he said.
The new program, called GRIEF, seeks to increase community members involvement in the cleanup of the tags.
Lt. Steve Mona, commanding officer of the Transit Vandal Squad, said graffiti created the impression that the site was a high-crime area.
He spoke of a survey taken by the Transit Police years ago, when many subway cars were covered with graffiti. The respondents, who numbered over 1,600, thought that 50 percent of all crime in the city took place on the subways, when the number was actually 3 percent, said Mona.
“We asked ‘why do you feel that way?’” said Mona. “And every single one of them mentioned graffiti.”
The police emphasized the need to paint over graffiti continually, even if it reappears.
“Once they realize we’re serious about cleaning it, they are going to go where the individuals are not so serious,” said Tuller.
Police also said they thought designating special walls for the purpose of graffiti is a bad idea.
“We have to be consistent with our messages,” said Mona, who went on to say that he saw graffiti as a crime, not as art.
“I’m not an art critic,” he said.
In an interview before his talk, Casey said many people had a misconception of the type of person who sprays tags across the city.
“Graffiti is not being done by the ‘ghetto people,’” he said. “It’s being done by everyone. Your average vandal is a male, white, 14.”
Casey said he knew of boys as young as eight and men as old as 55 who had been arrested for graffiti.
The detective recommended that parents keep an eye on their children to see if they may be spraying graffiti.
“Check the tips of their sneakers. See if there’s spray paint on them,” he said.
Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300 Ext. 141.