MELBOURNE, Fla. – Graffiti vandals are tagging windows, walls and outdoor objects across downtown Melbourne and the U.S. 1 corridor, prompting undercover nighttime police patrols, News 6 partner Florida Today reported.
"Here's 'Fresh.' You can see the old 'Sly.' 'Lubester' on the tag right here," Melbourne Police Officer Ryan Allen said, pointing out graffiti marring a metal city-owned electrical control box on Vernon Place — directly outside his office.
Allen has patrolled the past eight years as Melbourne's downtown community policing officer, working out of Melbourne Main Street headquarters.
He called graffiti a chronic issue, but, "it comes in waves for us — and we're at the top of a wave right now."
“Graffiti has been a huge problem for me in recent months,” Allen told the Melbourne Downtown Redevelopment Advisory Committee on Friday.
"Sometimes we paint it over. And the very same night, they're hit again. We've done some overnight details, where we had unmarked cars — and even me — sitting out watching particular places, trying to catch them," Allen said.
“We’ve identified a few people. I’ve worked with some business owners to put cameras on the spots that they’ve been hitting,” he said.
During a brief walking tour Wednesday, Allen pointed out spray-paint and paint-marker graffiti defacing the windows and railing of the former Executive Cigar Shop & Lounge; a railroad-crossing control box at Campbell Park; and walls along a dirt alley near Henley Court.
Graffiti vandals who cause up to $1,000 in damages face a charge of criminal mischief, a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail. However, Allen said likely sentences are far less harsh, such as a fine or community service.
"The city has an interdepartmental team that deals with graffiti issues. Our public works employees are responding to complaints of graffiti on public property, such as light poles, stop signs, bridges or concrete barriers," said Cheryl Mall, city spokeswoman.
“If the graffiti is found on private property, our code enforcement officials work with the private property owner through the normal code enforcement process to have it removed,” Mall said.
“Occupied property and/or proactive owners are encouraged to remove the graffiti ASAP. Enforcement process begins five days after notice is given. For graffiti found on a distressed/unoccupied property with an inactive owner who we cannot locate, after 48 hours, city staff will abate the graffiti,” she said.
Graffiti hot spots are downtown Melbourne and the U.S. 1 corridor, Allen said, stretching from University Boulevard northward through Eau Gallie. Large graffiti tags tarnish the second story of a vacant building next to Codecraft Works, near Riverview Park.
"Code enforcement's been coming down on one of my (building) owners. He's now spent $600 repainting over this graffiti," said Melbourne Downtown Redevelopment Advisory Committee member Lisa Herendeen, who owns Real Estate Ink.
That owner is Dave Horne. The Poinciana resident is selling a 3,700-square-foot building — which bears multiple rectangular whitewash paint patches — on U.S. 1 next to Island Tile & Marble. Wednesday, a spray-painted graffiti tag faced traffic on the north side of his building.
"You know what? You see it on trains and things like that, you don't think anything of it. But when it happens to you and your property, and you've got to go and paint over it every time, it's kind of aggravating," Horne said.
“And it can get expensive, yeah,” he said.
Allen said Melbourne's graffiti problem is not gang-related. He called painting over graffiti a "yes it works, no it doesn't" proposition.
Why? He said some graffiti vandals consider themselves artists, and they'll replace their illicit creations the day after they are covered up.
However, in other instances, graffiti that was painted over has remained clean for months.
"We're out here all the time trying to identify new tags, link them to people, try to identify suspects," Allen said.
To report graffiti, Melbourne residents should call the city’s code enforcement division at 321-608-7905.