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Missoula Business Owners Discuss Graffiti Vandalism

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MISSOULA -

Missoula business owners met with city officials Thursday morning for a panel discussion on the prevention and cost of graffiti vandalism.

Police said reports of graffiti tags on the sides of buildings -- particularly downtown -- have dropped in recent years.

However, city officials said it's important for business owners to know how to prevent vandals from causing damage to their own property.

Todd Frank owns the Trailhead on Front Street in Missoula.

Frank said vandals have tagged his business with spray paint five times over the past two years, which cost him hundreds of dollars to remove.

"You know, we want our building to look nice, as well, I mean it's sort of partly our presentation to the community is important to us," Frank said.

If a structure is tagged with graffiti, city officials said it's important for business owners to report and remove the tag as quickly as possible.

Frank explained, "The longer it's up, the more people think it's acceptable and the more people will continue to use those spaces."

"It's kind of a contest to see who can keep their tag on the longest, that's why it's really important to get rid of it as fast as possible," Crime Prevention Officer with the Missoula Police Department, Robert Sheeban, said.

Sheeban said graffiti vandals tend to be middle-school aged, but the department has also nabbed a few vandals in their mid-twenties. 

"I would consider it a subculture, and it's a form of expression," he said.

The police department and the Business Improvement District offer paint and solvent spray services to remove graffiti from surfaces.

Business owners can also take preventative measures, like covering their building with a paint-resistant coating, or installing security cameras and lights.

Another solution to graffiti vandalism is to provide the artists with a legal canvas, like the concrete wall at the end of California Street, whose owner donated it, specifically for graffiti.

Business Improvement District ambassadors have filed nearly 3,000 graffiti incidents over the past four years.

However, city officials said collaboration between business owners and local government has led to a 50% decrease in graffiti vandalism in Missoula.

"You know, making it welcoming, and not intimidating in any way is critical for our business and I think every business that exists downtown," Frank said.

City attorneys said Missoula does not have a graffiti specific ordinance, but vandals can face misdemeanor criminal mischief charges, which carry up to a $1,500 fine and six months in jail.

If you'd like to learn more about preventing graffiti or how to remove it from a structure, click here.

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