It’s not uncommon to see spray-painted graffiti on a freeway overpass or on the side of a building, and most probably don’t look twice. But when that same graffiti is on your back fence or on your child’s school playground, it can be a lot more menacing. Nobody really likes to see graffiti on his or her own block, but neighbors say it’s still showing up on their streets from time to time. Is there any way to curb the neighborhood nuisance, and is there reason to worry?

Graffiti is often associated with gang activity, so is this an indication that gangs are becoming more prevalent in our neighborhood?

Not necessarily. Generally, graffiti falls under one of two categories: It is classified as “tagger” or “gang” graffiti.

Tagger graffiti tends to involve individuals who consider themselves artists and not vandals. The graffiti is usually more ornate, often colorful, and is designed to display what they believe is art along with the name of the tagging crew and the individuals within the crew. They are in competition with other crews to tag and display their art in as many unique places as possible. Taggers generally don’t engage in violent crimes to protect their graffiti, and they don’t look at their work as criminal. Photographs of tagger graffiti are often even displayed on websites.

Gang graffiti is intended to send a message, to either claim an area as being controlled by a certain gang or to issue challenges to rival gangs. Gang members are known to engage in a variety of crimes, including violent crimes. Gang members do not look upon their graffiti as art, but rather as a means of communications to members and rivals.

So what are we seeing more of now in our neighborhoods?

According to sources in the Dallas Police Department’s Gang Unit, we are seeing an increase in incidents of tagger graffiti and a decrease of gang graffiti. The good news is the decrease of gang activity also means less violent crimes associated with gangs in our city. However, tagger graffiti is still destructive property and costly to businesses and taxpayers to cover or remove. Regardless of the type of graffiti, both are illegal and result in damage to personal or public property.

And what’s the penalty?

Suspects arrested for graffiti offenses are charged with a Class B misdemeanor and subject to confinement in the County Jail for up to six months and a $2,000 fine if the property damage is less than $500. The charge is enhanced as the amount of damage to the property increases.

If the graffiti is placed on schools, institutions of higher education, a place of worship or human burial, a public monument or a community center that provides medical, social or education programs, the offender can be charged with a state jail felony and, if convicted, will be subject to imprisonment in a state jail facility for a period of six months to two years and a fine up to $10,000.

What can neighbors do to combat graffiti?

If you see a suspect placing graffiti on buildings, fences, bridges, or other property, call 911 and report it to police immediately.

To help defray the costs of graffiti removal, paint and equipment can be donated and volunteers provided to assist in covering it. If you or your organization is interested in helping, call 214-670-5647.

For information on recent graffiti arrests, check the Dallas Police website at Click on Crime Info and then check Graffiti Offenses.