Hey, NYC Vandal Task Force – Follow the Money!

Arresting 3,786 graffiti writers last year, The Citywide Vandals Task Force is back in the news. The squad of 75 (!) officers has received press before. Even an 8 minute segment on This American Life. I think it’s because journalists love to ask the vandal squad if they think graffiti is art or not. Hacks. What about the real story?

Why go after petty vandalism, when there’s bigger fish to fry? I won’t argue that graffiti doesn’t break the law, all I’m saying is I’ve seen enough episodes of The Wire. Lester Freamon‘s voice echoes in my head, “good po-lice is all about following the money.” There’s plenty of other vandalism happening that’s putting thousands, if not millions, into the pockets of business. And if you look at my handy pie-chart, I’ve outlined the disproportionate enforcement.

The NYPD Vandals Squad doesn\'t arrest corporate vandals

Corporate vandals are making thousands, if not millions of dollars per year, blighting the city with illegal billboards, posters, stickers, and more. And no arrests. Where’s our McNulty? You’d think assaulting journalists might be enough for the vandal squad to take notice, but not yet. (I remain hopeful that something will turn up in the 2008 numbers.)

The shame here is how much it costs to chase down graffiti artists and jail them, while “direct, high impact, and non-traditionalillegal and invasive marketers are praised for their work and cashing checks. I don’t know much about how a vandal squad would be organized, but one could assume there’s a sergeant, some detectives, and a bunch of officers. Based on these figures a sergeant and detectives each average $100k/year, so conservatively figuring they have 4 detectives on such a large squad, that’s $500,000. Add 70 officers at $45k a year (averaging 3 years of experience) that’s another $3,150,000. Adding other support and other resources (staff, vehicles, an office) could easily put the total at 3.75 million dollars per year. Sadly it’s probably more. But at least they’ve rid New York of graffiti.

It’s unfortunate that 75 of New York’s finest backed by millions of dollars of support can’t catch even one man in a grey flannel suit.

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6 Comments

  1. Anonymous
    Posted June 10, 2008 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

    But advertisers pay the city for permits and buildings for the space to use.

    So, essentially, Advertisers are paying those detective salaries.

  2. Posted June 10, 2008 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

    Liz, my point is that many advertisers are not paying for permits. The ads are just as illegal as any graffiti writer’s work.

  3. Posted June 11, 2008 at 2:01 am | Permalink
  4. Posted August 23, 2008 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    75 officers! Crazy… In Manchester there about 5 and they work for the Transport Police. They probably bust about 60 people a year…

  5. Posted August 25, 2008 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    If the vandalism task force is so big, how come the tires on my bike keep getting slashed when I park it in close proximity to the Greenpoint BK police station? I’m talking 3 times in two months. That’s vandalism… but I guess it’s poor person to poor person vandalism, so it doesn’t matter.

  6. !!!
    Posted October 31, 2010 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    The idea of an individual such as a graffiti writer expressing themselves freely scares the government because it shows a lack of control and authority, this is why they have become so criminalized by the law. Advertisement agencies who may be working illegally are putting up adds that are promoting conformity and consumerism which the stability of government thrives on so they are not prosecuted. Also the city is making huge profits on the fines they impose on the agencies, but never go as far as to take them down, which is the city making profit on illegal advertisement by proxy of the law.

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