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Graffiti is 'metric of some larger problems going on in the city,' Richmond worker says

Richmond plans for 2,000+ graffiti removals in 2023, up from about 1,300 in 2022
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Posted at 5:48 PM, Mar 16, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-16 17:50:02-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- At the corner of Wayne Street and Cutshaw Avenue in Richmond, the wash and rinse starts, as a four-person crew works to remove graffiti from an abandoned building.

"I see a lot of these old buildings, they've got a lot of pretty structure, you know, the design," one worker commented. "They don't make buildings like these no more."

The smell of citrus fills the air as the crew power washes windows and the sides of the building. Some of the vandalism is painted over with gray paint.

Vassar Sumpter, Program and Operation Manager of Street Cleaning, Graffiti and Special Events
Vassar Sumpter, Program and Operation Manager of Street Cleaning, Graffiti and Special Events

Vassar Sumpter, Program and Operation Manager of Street Cleaning, Graffiti and Special Events for the city said the removal efforts will likely not last long. Come back in 24 or 48 hours, and the building might be spray-painted over once again.

"What you get is, you have to spend the time to clean this panel off, and then we have to come right back the next day to hit it again," he said as he pointed to what appeared to be initials. "This is another tag that's left up that's been repeated."

Richmond's Department of Public Works is planning for more than 2,000 graffiti removals this year, up from about 1,300 last year.

"I would think between an uptick in criminal activity, you see a graffiti uptick. I think you also see all the construction that's going on, new ones are being exposed. So, I think it's a combination of all of those things, but this is definitely a metric of some larger problems that are going on in the city," Sumpter said.

Brooks Lawson, Legend Property Group's director of operations
Brooks Lawson, Legend Property Group's director of operations

Businesses like Legend Property Group in Richmond's Shockoe Bottom are working with the city to remove the scribbles, names, and highly noticeable doodles for free, participating in a community clean up event to remove the vandalism alongside the city's cleanup crews back in October.

"We want to do our best to keep graffiti out of this area and keep things clean and looking good," said Brooks Lawson, the property group's director of operations.

A spokesperson with Mosaic, right across the street from Thursday afternoon's cleanup, said the business has spent more than $10,000 dollars removing graffiti from their building themselves, saying in a statement to CBS 6:

"We have on many occasions been assured that the city graffiti remediation team would assist us in removing damages to our historic building but that help has never materialized. We are a business that prides itself on curb appeal and having an inviting space for our clients and guests. We cannot wait 6 months for someone to show up and clean our front facade and must absorb the cost of the remediation 100% of the time."

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The spokesperson said the business is in regular contact with city council and Richmond Police and have been pleased with the responsiveness and empathy, noting that more resources need to be available to police and proper code enforcement for negligent property owners.

Sumpter said in order for Public Works to remove graffiti for free, the request would require an application and a liability form. The building owners' approval is required.

Sumpter said crews should remove the graffiti in 7-10 days.

"There may be a time where they can definitely tell you, 'Hey, we cannot do this because it's outside of our capabilities,' but we'll reach out to the owner, and we'll tell them that," Sumpter.

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Public Works is training up staff to take on the load and working with police to identify hotspots, encouraging anyone in the city to report the vandalism and apply for its removal.

"To be honest, it doesn't just affect the homeowners and the business owners, it also affects us as a city, because when they tag signs, we have to clean them up, stop signs, speed limit signs, our buildings, utility boxes, all that kind of stuff, so it affects everybody," Sumpter said.

To submit a request, you can do so through the RVA311 app or at rva311.com.

This is a developing story, so anyone with more information can email newstips@wtvr.com to send a tip.

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