Between January 2017 and April 2018 the City of Auburn’s Code Compliance received 562 reports of graffiti*. The city recognizes that graffiti is not a victimless crime. That is where the partnership with the Green River College Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society came in. Together, Code Enforcement and this local chapter of PTK have been working to combat graffiti in Auburn.
As awareness in reporting through apps such as the YourGOV app, APD App and the City of Auburn App spreads, the reporting of graffiti has increased. These reports provide data that can be utilized to discern messages that may be within the graffiti. It also shows areas where outreach is needed most. Removal is considered the best way to combat graffiti, so it is essential that this destructive vandalism, especially if gang-related or containing profanity, is addressed quickly.
Making a Mission a Reality
Unfortunately, some residents and businesses do not have the means or ability to remove graffiti. The city has encouraged neighbors to create a “Together Against Graffiti” prevention kit. This encouragement sparked an idea for former GRC PTK Vice President Josh Ramthun. Ranthum was seeking a service project within the community that he felt would make a difference.
During a brainstorming meeting with Mayor Nancy Backus and members of Auburn Police Department, prolific gang graffiti was raised. This caused Ranthum to recall neighbors he grew up next to who experienced the adverse side effects of constant graffiti vandalism.
“After this meeting, I realized that this was a project that could directly impact our community and make a difference in the lives of people who had repeatedly been the victims of gang-related and vulgar tagging. I brought forth the idea of implementing a graffiti clean-up project, specifically to help the elderly, low-income and other neighbors in need,” said Ranthum.
Involving Community Stakeholders
With a clear vision in mind, the PTK chapter officers and members quickly bring their mission to reality. Ranthum met with community stakeholders, including GRC leadership and City of Auburn staff. He coordinated with APD Community Response Team Sergeant at the time, Dan O’Neil and Neighborhood Programs Coordinator Erika Klyce and Tami Kapule from the city’s Code Compliance Unit.
"The goal of the project was to provide the [PTK] members with an opportunity for growth not only in their communities but also as leaders of their communities. It was designed for us to give back and improve our communities any way we could," explained Ranthum.
Understanding the harmful effects graffiti has on the community, these community stakeholders quickly realized the positive impact this project would have. There was also hope for a potential ripple effect – that if other members of the community witness the difference the PTK students were making it would empower them to get involved as well.
Utilizing the data received by the code enforcement division, the city strategized the priority and best approach for the students’ response efforts. The materials used in the project are purchased using a combination of PTK membership dues and partial from GRC that helps to support the activities of its campus clubs.
At times the location and nature of some of the graffiti can be questionable. Because of this, member of APD accompanies the PTK service team on each clean-up project they work. This not only shows that the service project is sanctioned by the city but also ensures the safety of the students. The PTK students have participated in 11 clean up events throughout the community since the inception of this partnership.
"It was designed for us to give back and improve our communities any way we could"
Continuing the Legacy
Auburn resident and PTK Advisor Megan Evans stepped up as students would graduate and move on, as Ranthum did in 2017. As the school advisor, this allowed the project to continue in perpetuity. This will allow for continuity as new PTK officers rotate in and out of the program.
"I love the idea that we have a project that can continue in perpetuity. As a resident of Lea Hill, and as the advisor to this great group of students, I am so proud of the work we are doing locally. We have plans to share our project with the other Phi Theta Kappa clubs in the area, and hopefully, they will be doing graffiti clean-up in their cities as well," said Evans.
As per City of Auburn Ordinance No. 9.54.020, it is illegal to possess graffiti producing items with the intention of using it to deface public or private property within Auburn. "Graffiti degrades the neighborhood, reducing property values and ruining the appearance of the neighborhood” Because of this the city encourages residents to report and abate it quickly. If you witness vandalism occurring, contact 911 to report it. Please report existing graffiti online, or call 253-931-3048 ext. 7.
*Reports between businesses and residential addresses are not separated.