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How Does Graffiti "Hurt"?

  • Graffiti vandals believe their actions harm no one. The reality is graffiti hurts everyone: homeowners, communities, businesses, schools, and you. And, those who practice it risk personal injury, violence, and arrest.
  • Transportation, property, and retail sales
    "Graffiti contributes to lost revenue associated with reduced ridership on transit systems, reduced retail sales and declines in property value. In addition, graffiti generates the perception of blight and heightens fear of gang activity" reports the U.S. Department of Justice.1 The appearance of graffiti is often perceived by residents and passers-by as a sign that a downward spiral has begun, even though this may not be true.
  • Safety
    Patrons of buildings, parks, or public facilities where graffiti vandalism has occurred may feel that if graffiti is tolerated, then other more serious crimes, such as theft and assault, may also go unchallenged.2
    • Schools and youth
      In schools, 52% of public high schools and 47% of middle schools reported incidents of vandalism during the 1996-1997 school years. Data shows little difference between cities, towns, and rural areas.3 Additionally, about 36% of students saw hate-related graffiti at school.4
  • Clean up costs
    Although the cost of graffiti vandalism in the U.S. has yet to be definitively documented, for many communities, private property owners, and public agencies the cost is rising each year.
  • Figures from a variety of cities across the U.S. suggest that graffiti cleanup alone costs taxpayers about $1-3 per person each year. For smaller communities the amount dedicated to graffiti cleanup annually may be less than $1 per person.
  • A 2006 survey of the 88 cities, Caltrans and Metro in Los Angeles County on graffiti removal found the cost was about $28 million. With a population of close to 10 million, the per capita cost is about $2.80.5 With a population of just under one million, the City of San Jose, CA spent approximately $2 million in 2006 fighting graffiti.6
    • For communities with smaller populations, per capita costs are typically under $1.00. Pittsburgh, PA (population just over 300,000) spends around $350,000 annually for graffiti clean up.7 Omaha, NE spends about $100,000 a year on graffiti removal (population just over 400,000).8 In 2006, the Tennessee Department of Transportation spent more than $240,000 on removing graffiti along its roads and bridges.9
    • Denver, CO and Milwaukee, WI, with similar populations-just over 550,000-each spend about $1 million annually.10 This is a per capita cost of about $1.80. In Houston, TX (population just over 2 million), the city earmarked $2.2 million for cleanup of existing graffiti in 2006.11
    • Chicago, IL budgeted $6.5 million in 2006 for graffiti removal and Graffiti Blasters, the city's removal program (population a little over 2.8 million).12 This is a per capita cost of around $2.30. Las Vegas, NV with a population of about 1.7 million spends more than $3 million each year cleaning up graffiti.13


  1. Deborah Lamm Weisel, "Graffiti," U.S. Dept of Justice Problem-Oriented Guides for Police Series No. 9, (2002).
  2. Deborah Lamm Weisel, "Graffiti," U.S. Dept of Justice Problem-Oriented Guides for Police Series No. 9, (2002).
  3. U.S. Department of Education, "Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2001", October 2001, p. 18-19.
  4. Deborah Lamm Weisel, "Graffiti," U.S. Dept of Justice Problem-Oriented Guides for Police Series No. 9, (2002).
  5. Ari Telias, Graffiti Abatement Program Manager, LA County Dept. of Public Works.
  6. Telephone conversation with Rick Stanton, City of San Jose, March 2007.
  7. "City officials say they are making headway against graffiti." Centredaily.com, November 27, 2006.
  8. "Omaha plans to track graffiti with the help of satellites." KETV.com, October 19, 2006.
  9. "Graffiti grows as costly nuisance for Nashville," The Tennessean, January 14, 2007.
  10. "Denver to tackle graffiti 'epidemic'." Rocky Mountain News, October 17, 2006. "City shunning Coke's graffiti art contest." Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, September 29, 2006.
  11. "New weapons in graffiti fight: rewards, 'paint bank'." Houstonist, June 23, 2006.
  12. "Night-vision cameras aim to stop graffiti." Chicago Sun-Times, April 6, 2006.
  13. "Graffiti vs. art update." KVBC/DT Las Vegas, April 10, 2006.