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Gurus of graffiti cleanup

When asked how many people comprise the graffiti cleanup crew at the 114th Civilian Observation Patrol (Civ-OP), Jim Pollock, the organization’s President, laughed.
“Three guys, well two guys and her,” he joked of his small crew - Peter Cassulis, Michael Cunningham and Susan Hengler - as they setup drop cloths around an Astoria laundromat on a sweltering Tuesday evening.
“All you need is three people, but three dedicated people, that’s the key,” Pollock said.
Every Tuesday and Friday evening, the group goes out to cleanup graffiti in the 114th Precinct - which includes the commercial thoroughfares of Steinway Street, Broadway, Ditmars Blvd, 30th Avenue and Northern Boulevard. In general, Pollock said, graffiti vandals “hit” stores rather than private homes.
The Civ-OP keeps a database of 140 sites that they maintain - about 160 total that they have cleaned - and list specifics for each site, including which of 15 colors of paint they used. While the graffiti cleaners are working, another unit patrols the neighborhood, checking for new tags and making sure that vandals have not defiled freshly cleaned sites.
Back at the Civ-OP headquarters - the Pollock residence - Jim’s wife Barbara files all of the paperwork for the cleanups, types requests for more grant money, and organizes the requests from local politicians and the police precinct.
After local residents call 3-1-1, the complaints about graffiti vandalism are passed from the elected officials to the Civ-OP, which cleans the paint for free and is funded by grants from Councilmembers Peter Vallone, Jr. and Eric Gioia through the city’s Department of Small Business Services; Assemblymember Michael Gianaris through the state’s Division of Criminal Justice Services; and from State Senator Goerge Onorato through the state’s Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation.
The funding has allowed the group to rent a trailer for VIN etchings, buy a van to transport graffiti cleaners to sites, and pay for supplies like paint, rollers and a power washer.
How long it takes the group to get out to a site depends on the job size, the location and what kind of paint was used during the vandalism.
“Painting, within two weeks we usually get to it,” Pollock said, explaining that power washing in the winter months was impossible before. The chemical that they used previously would not work in temperatures below 40 degrees, but with a new solution, they will be ready to take on every task come December. They use an expensive cleaner called “Elephant Snot,” which sucks up all of the paint embedded into brick. However, this chemical also sucks out the reddish brown coloring in the brick, and leaves a lighter shade.
“They can put it on as fast as they want, and I’ll take it off as fast as I can,” Pollock said. The group - like other graffiti cleaners - try to remove or paint over tags as quickly as possible as a deterrent to vandals, a word that Pollock uses over artist in every reference.
On Tuesday, July 10, it took about an hour-and-a-half for the crew to lay the cloths, cover surrounding cars, scrape chipping paint and repaint four metal pull-downs surrounding the store.
Their next major site - an entire four-story building - will take about six days of power washing, but the owner has promised to buy a chemical that prevents paint from seeping into the brick. Then soap and water can wash away tags.

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