Kennewick attack on graffiti also can help kids

Kennewick's war on graffiti has a new attitude and a new weapon.

The weapon is a hot water high pressure washer bought with a grant from the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.

But it's the positive can-do attitude that is making a difference in the lives of youths, says Mark Hammer, who oversees the graffiti abatement program for the Benton-Franklin Juvenile Justice Center.

"The best way to battle graffiti is remove it as soon as possible," Hammer told the Kennewick City Council at Tuesday's workshop.

Hammer said graffiti is a growing problem, having exploded from 25 incidents in 2003 to more than 200 in 2006 to 366 so far this year.

But the abatement program designed to make offenders remove the graffiti has taken what he calls a restorative justice approach.

"We focus on kids as much as projects. We want them to do positive things for the harm they've caused," Hammer said. The goal is to reconnect youth with the community.

Graffiti abatement for Kennewick and Benton City is one of a half-dozen community programs at the justice center.

Hammer said youths also assist with projects for the Tapteal Greenway Association, Badger Mountain Trail, the Master Gardener garden, Second Harvest Food Bank and work with code enforcement and community cleanup.

Those programs help young offenders see that the public values what they do, Hammer said.

But graffiti removal continues to be a high priority, he said.

October saw 41 graffiti locations with 150 individual taggings, Hammer said.

Some sites are a continual problem where he must bring his cleanup crews several times a week.

The recently purchased power washer is more effective than other methods, and is less harmful to surfaces, he said.

Police Chief Ken Hohenberg said officers see graffiti as a high priority issue because it is an early indicator of the potential for further crime.