Incidents of graffiti are increasing in some parts of Umatilla County.
Hermiston, Umatilla and Milton-Freewater have received multiple complaints about graffiti, and some, maybe even most of it, indicates gang activity. Hermiston Police Chief Jason Edmiston said some of the spray paint vandalism in his town displays “distinctive markings” that carry gang associations, and his department is investigating those crimes.
The spike in graffiti has Hermiston police asking who might be new to the area and behind the defacement.
“Seeing an uptick this early in the year for graffiti does have me concerned as we move into the warmer months,” Edmiston said.
Hermiston police does not track gangs per se, Edmiston said, but instead looks at numbers of assaults, disturbances and graffiti reports to gauge what’s going on. The department’s daily bulletin shows at least seven calls for graffiti in the past 30 days. Edmiston said retrieving comparable data from years past is difficult, but there is no doubt his community is dealing with more graffiti than usual.
He said the situation prompted him on April 24 to reach out to other law enforcement heads about the graffiti problems they are seeing, and right off Umatilla County Sheriff Terry Rowan responded. The two agencies plan to meet as soon as next week to discuss the matter, exchange information, including from school resource officers, and consider how to stop it.
Pendleton this season is experiencing more non-gang graffiti, police Chief Stuart Roberts said, such as spray paint displays of hearts, hashtags and love notes, as well as comments on the walls of restroom stalls. And, he said, there is bound to be graffiti under bridges where it could take a while before anyone sees and reports it.
The Cyclones, a local Sureños gang, has been quiet on the graffiti front.
“We know the group pretty well,” Roberts said. “We haven’t seen any of their stuff for a while.”
Pendleton also has an “aggressive graffiti abatement program,” he said. Like similar local laws, the ordinance puts the onus on property owners to clean up the mess.
Pendleton’s version gives property owners three days to remove or cover graffiti from the time of a notice. The owners can take that notice downtown to Sherwin-Williams or Zimmerman True Value Hardware to get supplies to deal with the graffiti. Roberts explained if someone is unable to remove or paint over it, the city’s code enforcement officer works with local contractors, volunteer groups or others to lend a hand.
“Even officers have gone out and done it before,” Roberts said.
Hermiston gives owners seven days from the date of a notice to remove graffiti. If they don’t, the city will and can charge them for the cost.
“We didn’t want to bog abatement down with too much red tape minutia,” Edmiston said, “and what we have has worked well.”
Edmiston also said his department will continue to cite parents if their children are responsible for graffiti. That strategy in the past helped clear some cases.
Gina Miller, code enforcement coordinator for Umatilla County, said cities tend to have more problems with graffiti, so Hermiston and other local towns are not alone. She serves on the board of the Oregon Code Enforcement Association and attends its conferences twice a year. She said cities regularly request presentations for dealing with graffiti.