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February 12th, 2009
San Marcos writes grafitti ordinance

Associate Editor

The San Marcos City Council will consider a measure allowing city police more discretionary authority over crimes not yet committed.

An ordinance before the council at its Feb. 17 meeting will define and restrict the possession of graffiti implements, providing penalties for violations.

San Marcos Police Chief Howard Williams said the ordinance is timed to work with the council’s graffiti eradication program. The program included the purchase of a $32,000 soda-blaster that uses baking soda and/or high pressure air and water to eliminate graffiti.

“The council has made it pretty clear to us that they want (graffiti) gone,” Williams said.

The ordinance would make it illegal to carry indelible markers or aerosol paint containers on school or public property after hours.  It also prohibits carrying said tools within 10 feet of bridges and public infrastructure at all times. If a person is caught violating the restrictions, police officers would have to determine if an unlawful act was about to occur.

“What we want is the ability to step in and prevent damage before it happens,” Williams said. “It gives us an opportunity to stop graffiti before it happens.”

Williams said property affixed with graffiti invites more crimes, such as littering and vandalism. His argument is amplified by the “broken windows” theory developed by James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling.

“If public authorities worry about order, it affects the way people behave,” Wilson said in a Los Angeles Times report.

The same report identifies New York City as the most famous example of the “broken windows” theory.

“New York City saw a 50 percent reduction in crime in the 1990s after then-Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and then-Police Commissioner William J. Bratton cracked down on squeegee-wielding panhandlers and the like,” the report said.

However, experts disagree about the evidence.

“An array of social scientists examined the (New York) City’s crime statistics, and many of them concluded that factors like the booming economy and decline of crack cocaine were actually responsible for the dramatic improvement,” the Los Angeles Times report said.

The ordinance stipulates that police can’t ticket suspects until first asking the individual why she is present within 10 feet of a bridge or public infrastructure with restricted materials. The legislation adds that the officer must “reasonably believe” that an offense has occurred and a “defense” is not present.

The ordinance defines an “affirmative defense” as a finding that the apparent offender “uses the graffiti implement in their employment or in connection with a school, civic, or religious activity or has written permission from the director or owner of the premises to engage in an authorized activity utilizing the (graffiti) implements.”

The ordinance also allows for parental punishment after children between ages 10 and 17 have committed a first offense.

“This isn’t an effort to get people in trouble,” Williams said. “We’re only interested in holding people responsible for graffiti and parents responsible for juvenile graffiti.”

Offenses under this ordinance are Class C Misdemeanors carrying fines not to exceed $500. The ordinance provides that a fine for a first offense can’t be less than $50, while a fine for a second offense can’t be less than $100.

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0 thoughts on “San Marcos writes grafitti ordinance

  1. This ordinance is HOGWASH! Why would we allocate more discretionary authority to our police dept.. that is stupid. What is happening in our town? First this new noise ordinance would give cops more discretionary authority, and now this!? Hell no.. this is too much. San Marcos wake up, and call you’re elected officials. This is absolutely ridiculous, and so are this ordinances drafters. Our government is going too far~

  2. “discretionary authority” for the police?? isn’t that like Russia? THIS is going WAY too far!! Charging people without evidence and instead just on “suspension” {discretionary authority} sounds unconstitutional to say the least! Maybe we should have a reading of the 4th and 5th Amendments at each city council meeting, and issue a copy to the police—requiring them to take a test on it’s contents monthly!!! There is plenty for the police to do enforcing existing laws without this stupid ordinance that violates our constitution! Now we know where Bush and his “patriot act” {read unpatiotic act} came after leaving Washington!!!

  3. I’m just not clear why it is that suddenly we seem incapable of managing any issue without sweeping new ordinances.

    How about demanding some accountability from Chief Williams? Everyone I work with wants better tools to make their jobs easier. That does not mean that I just ignore any poor performance because we don’t have all the latest, greatest tools.

  4. There’s a bigger problem here. We have it in Kyle too. The City Council no longer sets policy. Their only function is to rubber-stamp whatever their city staff brings forward to them. We need city councilmen who determine what type of legislation is needed in the City, based upon the needs and wishes of the citizens – not what makes the jobs of city staff easier. But finding people who can actually think for themselves is easier said, than done.

  5. Has anyone seen the hollywood movie “Minority Report”? Where Tom Cruise was going to be arrested for murder, even though he had not committed a crime yet, but supposedly was going to in the future.. This ordinance might not be that far of a stretch from that situation. I hate citing a hollywood movie as research, but actually this movie got it right when it comes to this San Marcos ordinance.

  6. I am so glad to see there are others outraged about this. It is absolutely unacceptable to think that police will get to determine someone’s intent and decide if that intent is valid.

    It feels like we are a few steps from a police state here in San Marcos…

    I hope everyone makes some time next Tuesday at 7 to go to the council meeting and express outrage at this absurd ordinance. To sign in for public comment, make sure to get there before 7!

  7. The San Marcos Police Department can’t be bothered to arrest the drunk drivers leaving the Square every night, yet they’re going to go after someone carrying a Sharpie in their backpack?


  8. Perhaps if we had activities for at-risk-youth this would be eliminated. These studies are quite clear on this issue. Consider that we could formulate film projects where youth create documentaries on life long members of our community for archival in the public library.

    I don’t see the relation between NYC and San Marcos. There are so many more important issues that we should be creating ordinances. So, was the investment in the machine worth the taxpayer dollars if we have to ramp up the ordinance?

  9. Hmm.. I dont think anyone is comparing NY with SM. I think it was noted that NY is the most notable example of the broken windows theory, and there are those that disagree on the statistic. Perhaps it proves a concern that can come up in SM. Lisa you’re assumption of the comparison is a little far fetched.
    But I do agree with Lisa that more at-risk youth programs would benefit the community. a lot!

  10. Along with litter cleanup, grafitti cleanup would be a great way to let people complete their community service hours.

  11. Has anyone considered this ordinance might actually lead to an increase in graffiti? After all, it will raise the risk factor of getting caught. Thus making it more dangerous and more appealing to some. Like saying: I double-dog dare you to do it….
    We’re dealing with adolescents here. You need to consider their motivation.

  12. I hadn’t considered that, but I’ve considered that a LOT of grafitti is on private property, like Treff’s Tavern, the offices around it, the tanning place across the street from it and cars in the parking lot across the street.

    I don’t know if the taxpayers’ soda blaster is available or effective for cleaning some of that. It’d be great to get the rest of the grafitti over here cleaned up.

  13. “discretionary authority” … when the police arrested Dave Newman after he saved a man from drowning in the San Marcos River? …because the didn’t like his “smirk”….“discretionary authority by the police is the last thing this town needs.

  14. duh, i did not read the rest of the next paragraph!! Thank you John!

    “However, experts disagree about the evidence.

    “An array of social scientists examined the (New York) City’s crime statistics, and many of them concluded that factors like the booming economy and decline of crack cocaine were actually responsible for the dramatic improvement,” the Los Angeles Times report said.”

    ergo, solve the root of the problem, not the side effects

  15. You got it Lisa. We need to develop more programs for at-risk youth, therefore occupying their time with positive things, as opposed to the “double dog dares” Lila spoke of. I completely agree that this ordinance is a mistake. I like the idea behind it, that there’s an effort to curve grafitti, but the method the city is trying to use is not appropriate. Ted also brings a great idea, make it community service hours.

  16. scary! i don’t suppose i’ll be venturing into SM anytime soon. the police might think i’m fixing to commit a crime. just by looking @ me. what country are we living in? i thought it was the US of A… maybe not.

  17. I am totally amazed at what this city council is trying to get away with. Again. “allowing city police more discretionary authority over crimes not yet committed?” That in itself is a crime. What happened to innocent unless proven guilty? The police have more than enough “discretionary authority” as it is. Just like mandatory microchipping, this is way out of line and is an illegal law. You can’t arrest and fine someone for carrying a magic marker. The way this town is being run does resemble pre-war Germany. It’s scary. I hope the associated press gets a hold of this one.

  18. If this passes into law, I’ll be the first one to contact the AP and every civic union that I can find.

    Yes, Ted, it was the Texas State Police that arrested David Newman and made San Marcos the laughing stock of the nation, but SMPD were present (I was there), and they did nothing about it. I guess TSP were using their “discretion” when they arrested the local hero.

  19. Tom, my point was that I would not paint all of the police departments in town with the same brush. Texas State University PD, despite having jurisdiction everywhere in San Marcos, use their “discretion” by not really doing any enforcement of anything off campus. So, they are unlikely to be arresting people for carrying magic markers near bridges.

    By the same token, I would be hesitant to paint all of the SMPD officers with one brush and I would certainly not judge the officers working the streets by the ordinances dreamt up by the chief and City Council.

  20. Are ya’lls city council members just plain stupid or are they as out of control as it seems?

    Glad I live in Austin. We are not perfect but at least we keep our city council from passing stupid laws.

  21. Your paranoid idiots!! The police have discrestion in almost every law they are asked to enforce. I am amazed at the stupidity of the posters at this site. No body wants the police to have discretion unless they get stopped by the police. Then they pray for it. I hope the cops stick the paint spray cans up the ass of the pricks painting their gang signs all over town.

  22. Cute comment Otis, however, if you’re going to call anyone idiots, perhaps you should spell your train of though correctly. It is not spelled “Your paranoid idiots!!” It is spelled “YOU’RE paranoid idiots!!” I figured I’d point out the obvious, because when you’re ranting and mispell your phrase calling someone an idiot, it only leads me to think: who is the REAL IDIOT here? Although I encourage you to express yourself however you like, I’d like to offer you my opinion by saying that name-calling and hinting at violent action (other than being very highschool) doesn’t get you or us anywhere. The real issue is to encourage discussion on these ordinances and any other issue of interest to the public. I dont know, those are my 2 cents.

  23. Otis – on one point, you are right about the amount of discretion that the police have. I’ve taught my kids that no matter why they are stopped, always say “Yes sir,no sir, and kiss up as much as they can. That’s just life and it’s the way cops are and it’s been that way for a long time. What we are trying to prevent, is an actual law saying that cops can do whatever they want to do, regardless of what is right. There are good cops that will do right by this law, but there are bad cops too, that will abuse the law.

    We hate the grafitte. But some of us hate bad laws too,

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