Cleanup of graffiti painted by vandals throughout buildings and properties in Puyallup costs taxpayers annually hundreds of thousands of dollars.
It’s a problem that has grown over the years — one city officials and volunteers have had a hard time keeping up with.
“We didn’t see the same level of tagging that we see now,” said John Anderson, Puyallup School District’s special services work crew lead. “It was usually behind the Wendy’s on Meridian or occasionally on someone’s fence. Now there’s repetitive tagging.”
But a group of Puyallup School District students, volunteers and Puyallup police officers are taking a creative approach to combat cleanup costs while also trying to get ahead of the problem.
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The recently launched G.E.T. It Off The Wall, or the Graffiti Eradication Team, is aiming to reduce the cost of graffiti cleanup — while also helping local special needs youth learn valuable skills. Anderson’s crew, a group of special needs students from the Puyallup School District between the ages of 18 and 21, gain work experience and become prepared for real-world employment while working diligently to make their community a better place.
“It helps them learn responsibility and what’s right and wrong,” Anderson said. “It gives them a sense of ownership for their community.”
Ultimately, the program hopes to set students up with a marketable skill for future employment. Eradicating graffiti provides the students a chance to develop their painting skills while taking pride in a job well done.
“It makes the park look neater and newer,” said student Allan Shaller of his hard work repainting the fence of Veteran’s Park earlier this month.
“The newly painted fence made the park look outstanding,” said Lloyd Kirk, another student in the program. “I learned how to roll paint and make the fence look as pretty as I could.”
The students’ hard work is not going unnoticed by the community.
“The students have gotten a lot of good acknowledgment from the community,” said Lisa Isaacs, crime prevention specialist for the Puyallup Police Department.
Now that summer is here, however, the students will be on break, leaving less hands to help keep the community clean. Isaacs and others at the department are encouraging local folks to watch for graffiti in their own neighborhood, and for parents to keep a watchful eye out for an abundance of permanent markers, spray paint cans and spray paint residue.
“We need additional eyes and able bodies to help us eradicate graffiti from Puyallup,” Isaacs said.
The team is looking for volunteers who will adopt an area or public site to clean it when graffiti appears.
“If we can clean it up as soon as possible, it gives the graffiti-er less satisfaction,” Anderson said.
For more information, to volunteer with the G.E.T. team, or to report graffiti, email puyallupPD@ci.puyallup.wa.us.