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Emanuel wants to hike fines for graffiti, but alderman wants more

Streets SanitatiCommissioner Tom Byrne Mayor Rahm Emanuel are shown looking over garage wall thwould be painted by Graffiti-Removal Crew 2900

Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Tom Byrne and Mayor Rahm Emanuel are shown looking over a garage wall that would be painted by the Graffiti-Removal Crew, in the 2900 block of West 59th Street. | Sun-Times File Photo

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Updated: July 25, 2014 6:17AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is moving to crack the whip on graffiti vandals, but not enough to satisfy a Southwest Side alderman who proposed an even tougher crackdown two years ago in response to a spike in gang graffiti and a slowdown in city removal of it.

Ald. Mike Zalewski (23rd) said Emanuel’s plan to more than double the fines against graffiti vandals — from $750 currently to $1,500 to $2,500 — is not enough because fines are seldom levied and rarely collected.

Instead, Zalewski wants to join forces with the mayor on the ordinance he introduced in 2012, two days after vandals with red spray paint defaced a memorial to fallen Chicago Police officers near Soldier Field.

It would take graffiti cases out of the hands of city hearing officers and return them to the courts, where judges may be more inclined to throw the book at offenders.

In addition, the Zalewski-sponsored ordinance that has languished in committee would dramatically increase the fines for graffiti vandals — from $750 and up to 1,500 hours of community service to $2,000 and “not less than three days” in jail or 2,500 hours of community service. It would double the minimum fine for parents or legal guardians — from $250 to $500 — and raise the top fine from $750 to $1,000.

“My ordinance was based on a lot of community input where residents were going to administrative hearings and not seeing much reaction or no reaction at all. They didn’t think it was much of a deterrent,” Zalewski said Monday.

“We’re not talking about street artists who . . . paint a mural. Pitchforks and crowns are strictly designed to let criminals know [gangs control the turf]. It leaves an impression the area is gang-infested. It scares people when this stuff sits out there. The city does the best they can. But, for us to continually have to clean the same locations on a weekly basis — we’re fighting a losing battle.”

Chicago Police Department spokesman Marty Maloney said police made 564 graffiti-related arrests in 2012 and 528 last year. City Hall did not release fine collections during the same period.

Zalewski said the mayor’s office called him on Monday.

“They want to meet with me to see if we can work together, which is absolutely fine. I don’t care who gets the credit,” he said.

Two years ago, Emanuel defended his decision to cut his predecessor’s popular graffiti blasters program — and alter the city’s plan of attack — despite a slowdown in graffiti removal that had one frustrated alderman using his expense allowance to remove it.

In a press release Monday, Emanuel portrayed the higher fines as a complement to the nearly $1 million in additional resources for graffiti removal in his 2014 budget.

The Department of Streets and Sanitation used the money to add two graffiti blaster crews, two chemical graffiti removal trucks, one painting crew and a weekend graffiti removal shift.

A 2-year-old grid system is used to “blitz” four wards per day in response to graffiti complaints. City Hall insists the grid system has increased daily productivity by individual crews by 17 percent.

“Graffiti is vandalism that impacts the beauty and vitality of our neighborhoods,” Emanuel was quoted as saying in the press release. “By increasing fines, we are working to deter future vandalism.”

Twitter: @fspielman

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