Cleaning off the bad paint

LaGRANGE – LaGrange City Council is reviewing a proposed ordinance from the LaGrange Police Department that would give the city more options when it comes to dealing with gang graffiti at its regular work session Tuesday.

The proposed ordinance would classify gang graffiti as a nuisance, which would give the city the legal ground to do something when homeowners refuse to get rid of graffiti marking gang territory.

“What you’re doing is – if you’ve got gang graffiti on a residence – you are inviting the opposing gang to come by and shoot up that (house),” said Public Safety Chief Lou Dekmar. “And if I’m living next to it, that’s a nuisance to say the least. It is also a public safety hazard.”

The proposal is expected to carefully outline what counts as graffiti and layout the notification process that would be required before taking any legal action.

“For the last 20 years, (when) we’ve had gang graffiti, we’ve just contacted the homeowner or the property owner and advised them that they needed to address it, and that we would give them a reasonable amount of time to do that,” said Dekmar. “And then if they didn’t we would just have community service just go over and paint it.

“We have a couple of folks who are apparently sympathetic to gangs, and (when) we contacted them they told us that they were not going to remove it. They advised us that if we came onto the property to remove it, that they would file criminal trespass charges, so legally we couldn’t do it.”

It would only be if the homeowner refused to remove the graffiti or allow the city to remove the graffiti that the proposed change would take effect.

“If they let us send community service to (paint over) it, then we wouldn’t have to trigger this ordinance,” said City Manager Meg Kelsey.

The legal action would be similar to court cases over unkempt properties that cause a public safety hazard by attracting rodents or are ruled a health issue, according to Dekmar, who does not believe that the city will not have to rely on the ordinance often.

“We make somewhere between 4,000 and 5,000 contacts (about issues) a year that are enforced and related, but make less than a dozen cases because folks voluntarily cooperate, and we work with them on it,” said Dekmar.

The ordinance would apply exclusively to graffiti ruled to be a public safety hazard – because of possible retaliation – and would not apply to other messages or symbols that could be construed as free speech, even if the material was offensive. The police department does request that offensive graffiti be removed and offers to help, but the decision on the removal of non-dangerous graffiti is ultimately up to the home owner, and would remain that way under the new ordinance.

The council agreed that it would like to review the ordinance after the city attorney had a chance to review legal president on similar ordinances.

The  council plans to meet again on Feb. 14 at 5:30 p.m. at 208 Ridley Ave.

 

Reach Alicia B. Hill at alicia.hill@lagrangenews.com or at 706-884-7311, Ext. 2154.

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