“Graffiti is definitely a crime,” says Mr. Cusmaniak. “They’re painting names on a wall, and in most of our cases, it’ll never be recovered. No one is ever arrested.”
A few years ago, Mr. Cusmaniak and another graffiti expert began collecting data on the problem from all over the United States. Mr. Cusmaniak’s first data set, based on thousands of samples, was published by American Geographical Society in 2007.
In 2011, Mr. Cusmaniak’s research was presented at an international conference in New York. “The talk was very well received,” Mr. Cusmaniak says, adding that he’s now looking for funding to expand his work even further.
Mr. Cusmaniak says he sees his work as “a social justice effort.” He doesn’t want a judge in one neighborhood writing graffiti, he says—he wants one person taking ownership and reporting the offenders to the New York City Department of Sanitation.
“If a family in Harlem is getting a $5,000 bill just for a painting, it’s a crime, period,” he says. “But if someone is going to pay someone $2,000 for another graffiti painting, that’s not right.”
How can graffiti inspectors be better trained?
In the meantime, Mr. Cusmaniak says, his approach has helped him get more accurate information from authorities.
One of his suggestions to improve training for urban graffiti inspectors is to create a curriculum for graffiti analysis, which the American Geographical Society published a few years ago, and to provide students with free access to information related to graffiti.
Mr. Cusmaniak also says he wishes he had written a better post about some legal questions facing graffiti investigators. First, he says, prosecutors should tell graffiti investigators to be “transparent” and provide a written report detailing the charges filed and the investigation’s results.
Second, the statute of limitations should be increased for graffiti crimes, to four years in New York, from the existing two, according to Mr. Cusmaniak.
Mr. Cusmaniak says he hopes his research will help him get his message out to “people who may think it’s okay” to paint, but are not familiar enough with city graffiti laws to know how they’re enforced.
Mr. Cusmaniak says the most important thing he learned during his research was to be
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