Graffiti growth generates ire at businesses, from council

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

By Scott Moyers ~ Southeast Missourian

Some might be tempted to call it street art, but police and city officials say the colorful doodlings that have been popping up on several buildings and vehicles in Cape Girardeau are cases of vandalism and criminal offenses.

"It's a criminal incident, it's property damage," said police Capt. Carl Kinnison. "For the person who has to clean that property up, it's a hassle and can cost some money. Others can simply paint over it and it's gone."

There have been five cases of vandalism reported to police, but city Councilman Jay Purcell told the Cape Girardeau City Council he has counted 20 buildings that have been spray-painted.

Most of the vandalism has taken place near the corner of West End Boulevard and Independence. Some of the buildings now have eyes with funny faces sprayed on them. A truck at D'Lorch Locks & Alarms has a green bunny with a bow tie. A camper in a nearby lot has a nonsensical word -- maybe "kidsign" -- painted on its side along with other doodles and the word "J-RED."

Several buildings have the word "solo" spray-painted in block letters using different neon colors.

At the Water Doctor on West End Boulevard, a clown has been spray-painted on the back of one of their buildings. The clown is holding a spray-paint can. The buildings also have been hit two other times with one "demonic-looking" drawing and words that make no sense, said Geanne Hoffman, co-owner of the Water Doctor.

Youth crime

Purcell lives two blocks from that area and he believes it's probably two people in their late teens or early 20s. Purcell's guess about the suspects comes the use of two nicknames in the graffiti, and that spray-painting is typically a crime of youth. Purcell first noticed the graffiti on the buildings of the Water Doctor and then noticed more and more graffiti each day as he was driving around town.

He stopped and talked with property owners and asked them to make reports to police.

"They all had a feeling like nothing can be done," Purcell said. "I was bothered by it too, because it seems like they may get away from it."

But Purcell collected some money from the businesses and threw in some of his own. Then, coupled with money from the cash-for-tips group Crime Stoppers, a $200 reward has been made available to catch the culprits.

"More than likely they've been out bragging with their friends," Purcell said. "We're hoping to appeal to someone's sense of monetary value and that they'll turn one of their friends in."

Purcell said this could cost property owners significant amounts of money.

"It's not your typical graffiti," he said. "They're putting it on vehicles and that could run into thousands of dollars of damage. We need to address this right here and now to keep it from spreading."

Urban look

The graffiti looks like something from an urban area like St. Louis or Chicago, Purcell said.

"Like you see on trains," he said. "It's a black eye on the community. People think it's not a big deal but it is."

At the Water Doctor, a light has been put up and some of the trees have been cut down to make the area less of a target for vandals. But despite the hassle, Hoffman said the culprit is not without talent.

"It's very good," she said. "Whoever is doing it is very artistic."

Hoffman would be even more appreciative if the artist would stop painting the building.

The graffiti isn't limited to that area. Sean Schmidt, the owner of Nail D'Signs at 629 Broadway, came in about a week after he opened and saw that a 5-foot "solo" was painted on the side of his building.

"I had just bought the building and I thought it said 'sold,'" Schmidt said. "I thought the real estate agent was too cheap to buy a good sign and had just painted that on there."

Schmidt hopes to have the word covered with paint.

"I'm just trying to get my business started," he said.

Kinnison emphasized that this is not gang graffiti. "It's probably the furthest thing from it," he said.

Anyone with information should contact Crime Stoppers at 332-0500 or police at 335-6621.

Kinnison suggested that people with graffiti should get it removed as soon as possible.

"The more people see graffiti around, the more it encourages other people to do it," he said.

335-6611, extension 137

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