City IndexWhat are the penalties for graffiti around the world?
What's the worst place in the world to tag a wall? This week, Hopes&Fears looks at how cities handle graffiti, from the toughest consequences to cities that question the crime's validity entirely.
Anti-graffiti enforcement is expensive. By one estimate, the U.S. spends between 15 and 18 billion dollars a year to “monitor, detect, remove, and repair graffiti damage.” Around the world, laws vary.
In this week’s City Index, we found cities that want to scare the hell out of people with draconian laws and cities that are questioning the wisdom of trying to police graffiti at all. These are some of their harshest penalties for graffiti.
We chose 8 CITIES across the globe, from Detroit to Sydney, to retrieve our data.
fine, up to
A graffiti writer in Los Angeles who causes more than $400 in damage to a property can face fines up to $10,000, up to a year in jail, or both.
In California, fines are based on the amount of damage done to a property. According to a Los Angeles Board of Public Works document, if a writer causes more than $50,000 in damage, they can be fined up to the same amount and see up to 1 year in jail. Damage totaling less than $400 can carry a fine of up to $1,000 with up to 6 months in jail.
fine, up to
6 months in jail
London has a fixed penalty for graffiti set at £75. The fixed penalty notices were a part of the Clean Neighborhoods and Environment Act 2005.
For major offenses, like serious damage to property or racist graffiti, graffiti writers can be prosecuted under the 1971 Criminal Damages Act, under which they can be charged with fines commensurate to the damage done (up to £5,000), and face the possibility of up to 6 months in jail.
1 year in jail
In Mumbai, the fine is ₹50,000 Rupees and up to one year in prison.
fine, up to
One report had a woman catching a 7,000 euro fine for spray painting a wall.
Despite the city of Berlin’s efforts, graffiti remains a part of the city's landscape. As of mid-2013, railway operators in the city were considering putting surveillance drones in place to cut-down on rail-cars getting graffitied.
Republic of Singapore
8 cane strokes, $1,471 and 3 years in jail
The charges aren’t for show; Singapore has repeatedly enforced these penalties on whoever writes graffiti. In 1994, an American teenager was convicted despite a plea for clemency by Bill Clinton, and just this year a court sentenced two Germans for writing graffiti in a train-yard. The U.S. State Department published a report claiming that 2,203 caning sentences were carried out in 2012, and 1,070 of those charges were against foreigners.
After widespread public outcry surrounding the death of Felipe Becerra, a teenager shot and killed by police while writing graffiti in 2011, the city of Bogatá has adopted a much more accepting approach to graffiti. No permits are required for painting a building’s facade, police rarely intervene, and when they do they can only ask the writer to erase their work and leave. Historical buildings and homes are protected, however. As is Justin Bieber.
$1,923 and 1 year in jail
In Sydney, graffiti is punishable with $2500 and a year in prison for pieces that cause a significant amount of property damage. Less severe offenses range from up to 100 hours of community service for minors, and 300 for adults.
Depending on how much damage a writer does, they can be fined anywhere between 750 to 1500 euros. If damage is done to what Spain defines as "monuments or protected buildings", fines can be doubled, ranging from 1500-3000 euros.
5 years in jail
According to Wayne County Assistant Prosecutor, Maria Miller, a graffiti writer in Detroit who causes damage amounting to more than $1,000 and less than $20,000 can face anything from probation to 5 years in jail.
“There’s a lot of discretion with these cases. If you’ve been defacing property for a long time they are going to take a firmer position, but it all depends on the charge. If you are a first time offender, most of the time it’s a misdemeanor, which result with up to a year in jail, but only in rare cases. Most likely, you would have to complete a graffiti removal program, a type of community service reserved for graffiti artists with each borough operating on different guidelines. But if the tag went up in a more high risk or sensitive location, the charge could border on burglary or trespassing charges. If you break into a landmark, it becomes burglary, as burglary is entering any premise with the intent to commit a crime or commit an act criminal mischief. In this case, 'making graffiti' is the crime. Let’s say you try to tag the Statue of Liberty. If you took a boat out there, broke into the entrance, and tagged the crown, they would handle you differently than someone who tags the subway, they would look for everything they could throw at you. Unfortunately, the sensitivity of the crime is in the eye of the beholder. If you commit several acts of vandalism in a neighborhood that has one dominant ethnicity, depending on the tag they could call it a hate crime, but the act would have to be offensive. They also have strict laws on how you sell graffiti making products, so unless you’re establishment is abiding by the proper protocol, you could receive a fine between $250-$500. If you damage the property of another person, which is considered an act of criminal mischief, the crime is considered a Class C felony if the property damage exceeds $250 in damage, or it could be a Class D felony if the damages exceed $1,500. Let’s say you deface someone’s fence. If the person who owns the fence says that it would take $1,200 to replace or fix their fence, you’ll be charged with a restitution of $1,200 rather than being sued.”
In any case, it's better not to get caught.
COVER IMAGE: Antwan Duncan