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Originally published Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 12:48 PM

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Graffiti response steps outlined in city report

The Seattle City Auditor's office Thursday released its first performance audit on graffiti prevention and removal and outlined 14 recommendations to curb the problem.

Seattle Times staff reporter

The Seattle City Auditor's Office Thursday released its first performance audit of the city's graffiti-prevention-and-removal efforts and outlined several recommendations to curb the problem.

The audit emphasizes that it's up to Mayor Mike McGinn and the City Council to decide if, in fact, abating graffiti is a priority.

Among the suggestions:

• Create a new position, either in the mayor's office or another city department, to exclusively oversee graffiti issues. The role could be filled by an existing city employee.

• Have other city employees, such as parking-enforcement officers, photograph and report graffiti they discover in the course of their work.

• Create a photographic database to help track patterns and facilitate police enforcement.

• Amend the Seattle Municipal Code to include stickers — adhesive postal mailing labels are notoriously common in tagging — as part of property destruction. This would help the city with prosecution rates.

Right now, three main city departments — the Seattle Public Utilities, the parks department and the Seattle Department of Transportation — do most of the graffiti removal on public property, said Jane Dunkel, assistant city auditor.

And there's no systematic way of sharing information or managing the problem, she said.

That's why having a "person with centralized authority" in the city will be key to reduction efforts, she added.

"There needs to be somebody who has some authority to get all the departments ... to work on this together," she said. "Everybody has to be on the same page."

City Council members Tim Burgess and Tom Rasmussen asked for the audit earlier this year, after hearing concerns from residents. They wanted an examination on how the city handles graffiti removal, prosecutes offenders, and educates the public about graffiti.

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According to the report, the city spent $1.8 million last year to abate graffiti from public property. The most common targets were traffic and street signs, utility poles, and parking pay stations.

At one time, Seattle had its own graffiti detective within the police department, but the officer retired in January 2007 and the position was never filled.

Although graffiti vandalism increased by 14 percent that year, the number of cases forwarded to the City Attorney's Office for prosecution decreased by 31 percent that same year.

"We think there's a correlation," Dunkel said, adding that one of the recommendations is to reinstate a graffiti detective. Public education is another critical component, she said.

The full report will be presented to the City Council on Aug. 4 during the public-safety committee meeting.

Sonia Krishnan: 206-515-5546 or skrishnan@seattletimes.com

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