Wednesday, April 8, 2009 | 2 a.m.
Las Vegas officials and Metro Police will visit city elementary schools this month with a stern message: Tag, and you’re out.
In response to what officials call a scourge of graffiti tagging, the city wants students to know that writing or painting graffiti is a crime, and that they should be working to beautify their communities instead of defacing them.
As part of Graffiti Awareness Month, the City Council and the Southern Nevada Graffiti Coalition are sponsoring trips in April to nine elementary and middle schools for “signing ceremonies.”
During these services, police and city officials will talk about what graffiti is, why it’s a crime and how gaining permission is the difference between art and graffiti. Students will then be asked to sign a banner, which pledges that they will work to improve their community and not to commit the crime of graffiti.
Signing the banner — which will be hung inside each school — will not be mandatory, city spokeswoman Mary Ann Price said.
“This is really a good time to get the kids, when they’re younger,” Price said. “We need to let these kids know that it’s a crime.”
Graffiti is the most expensive property crime in the city, costing the public about $30 million per year, officials have said.
Following the lead of Mayor Oscar Goodman — who has advocated a medieval form of punishment for taggers — the City Council recently boosted penalties for them, and in some cases even for their families.
An ordinance passed in September mandates first-time offenders pay a fine of at least $400 and perform 100 hours of community service. Fines increase to at least $750 and $1,000, respectively, for second- and third-time offenders, on top of 200 hours of community service.
The ordinance, sponsored by Ward 5 Councilman Ricki Barlow, also mandates that a judge suspend a convicted tagger’s driver’s license for six months to two years. Taggers who don’t yet have licenses would have to delay applying for them.
And in a move that drew the ire of the American Civil Liberties Union, the ordinance makes parents or legal guardians of any tagger younger than 18 responsible for the fines and penalties imposed against the minor. If the adult is unable to pay, the court could require community service.
The youths might want to take special note of how the city’s top official feels about graffiti vandals. Goodman, who often rails against them, created a national hubbub in 2005 when he remarked to a reporter that taggers should have their thumbs cut off on television.
Goodman recently was selected to be one of 12 directors of a group called Local Governments for Sustainability U.S.A.
The group is part of the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, which includes more than 1,075 local, regional and national groups worldwide that have made commitments to sustainable development.
The city’s commitment to sustainability includes an alternative fuels program through which 90 percent of the city’s 1,350 vehicles run on biodiesel, compressed natural gas, hydrogen and hybrid technologies.
The city also has policies to ensure that new city buildings are constructed to certain “green” standards.
The Toronto-based international council provides technical consulting and training to share knowledge and support local governments as they implement sustainable development projects.