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.
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-traditional” illegal 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.