SPRINGFIELD -- If you hear the clunky rattle of a can of spray paint followed by a soft hiss, it's too late. You've been tagged.
It's a sound only too familiar to residents who live along both sides of the 21/2-mile Eugene Water & Electric Board Bike Path, which spans east to west from Pioneer Parkway to roughly 31st Street in north Springfield.
On Tuesday afternoon, city officials and volunteers picked up paint brushes to rid the community of at least some of the annoying vandalism that stretches along the bike path's fence lines.
The idea sparked when Springfield Mayor Christine Lundberg, who lives near the path, noticed the growing amount of graffiti being painted on the surrounding fences during a morning run last year.
"There are kinds of graffiti that are artistic and sought after, but there is also graffiti that looks territorial and has a sense of criminal activity that creates an environment that doesn't feel safe," Lundberg said.
After going door-to-door requesting permission from residents to allow volunteers to paint the fences, shades of tan, brown and gray -- or, according to the paint cans, "desert," "espresso" and "storm cloud" -- began covering up gang monikers, vulgar language and suggestive symbols.
Paint donated from Sherwin-Williams and BRING Recycling, combined with supplies purchased by the city, were used along a 20-block portion of the bike path. Volunteers did their best to match the color of each surface with the three different hues of paint.
Lundberg said the idea behind the project wasn't only to cover up the graffiti, but to build stronger neighborhoods by beautifying a community's appearance.
Courtney Griesel, senior management analyst for the city, said graffiti can affect property values, generating the perception of blight and heightening the fear of gang activity.
"If you can get on top of some of these smaller issues, it keeps from proliferating into the bigger issue where people just stop taking care of their fences," Griesel said. "If we can get after some of this low-hanging fruit, in some ways we can stop the curve" of inaction.
Griesel said the best way to stop taggers and graffiti artists from using fences or other property is to actively paint over the graffiti within 24 hours.
"There is a cost-benefit, even to the criminals," she said. "If they sincerely want to get notoriety or to mark a territory, they want it to stay up long enough for people to see it, and if you get out there and clean (the graffiti) up immediately, it's not worth their time or effort."
The anti-graffiti campaign was tied to National Night Out, where Springfield police officials, a police K-9 team and McGruff the Crime Dog met with residents at six different city parks on Tuesday evening. The annual event was billed as an opportunity for residents to learn about the city's Neighborhood Watch program, crime and drug prevention awareness, safety and neighborhood unity.
During the graffiti painting event, city police officer Justin Myers rode by on his bicycle. While the police department can't always effectively respond to calls about vandalism, Myers said there is an increasing effort to assign bike patrols to areas known for graffiti in an attempt to deter some people.
"People who see us go by won't know the next time we'll be rolling through, and either will go somewhere else, or simply stop doing it," he said.
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