New team is battling to tag the taggers

picture-71When Jenn Kushmerek found herself in a battle of wills with a graffiti tagger over a mailbox near the couple’s Jamaica Plain home several years ago, it taught her and husband Greg a lesson.

”Four or five times a week, I would go and repaint that box,” she recalls. ”And when I walked by the next day, it would be tagged again.” After six weeks of continuous repainting, the graffiti artist finally gave up.

”I realized that if we could get more people to do this, to wear taggers down by repainting the same object over and over again, it could make a real impact in the community,” says Greg Kushmerek. During his five years as a member of the Jamaica Plain Citizens Police Alliance, he heard repeated concerns about graffiti in JP, and wondered if there was a way to encourage residents to take the same long-term approach used by his wife.

So last fall, he launched the ”Anti-Graffiti Bank,” which allows JP residents to adopt a potential target in their neighborhood, monitor it for graffiti, and repaint or clean it when it’s hit.

Members send Kushmerek a form indicating what they want to adopt; so far, people have chosen green postal boxes. They can then pick up free paint and cleaning supplies from the Ace Hardware on Centre Street, using an account that Kushmerek has set up for Anti-Graffiti Bank members.

”I’ve found that people want to be involved in projects like this, but don’t necessarily want to spend their own money,” explains Kushmerek, who raised $1,800 to launch the program, an amount matched by his employer, MathWorks of Natick. That money ”will buy enough paint to cover a lot of graffiti.”

The group doesn’t have strict rules about what types of objects people can adopt, but encourages members to target items such as utility poles and mailboxes. ”These objects get hit all time, and we already know what shade of paint will work best to repair the damage,” Kushmerek said.

Kushmerek’s program, with a handful of members, it is just one of various graffiti fighting initiatives in Jamaica Plain. Police District E13 , which encompasses much of JP, operates an anti-graffiti hot line that sends a team of police and community members to paint over reported graffiti markings.

Jamaica Plain resident Michael Reiskind, who has been involved in Jamaica Plain’s anti-graffiti efforts for four years, is an active member of this team.

”The goal is to get markings painted over as quickly as possible,” he says. ”We focus on high visibility areas like business districts and the MBTA stops first, but ultimately we try to remove as much as possible.” Reiskind says Kushmerek’s program will help him and his fellow volunteers stay on top of graffiti in JP. ”It’s tough for us to hit every spot,” he said.

Boston also operates a citywide Graffiti Busters program, which provides free removal of graffiti upon written request.

A recent law fines property owners up to $200 if they don’t remove graffiti from their property or call Graffiti Busters to do it for them. Boston City Councilor John M. Tobin, who sponsored the law, says it encourages people to take advantage of city resources.

Kushmerek has focused his efforts on graffiti not only for aesthetic reasons, but because he believes the spread of graffiti encourages more serious crimes. Tobin agrees. ”When small crimes go unchecked, they lead to larger ones,” he says. ”Not dealing with graffiti can create bigger problems.” So far, none of the postal boxes adopted by Anti-Graffiti Bank members has been tagged.

Reiskind, who has lived in Jamaica Plain since 1972, estimates that he spends 50 hours a month on graffiti removal.

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