San Marcos Police Chief Howard Williams spoke to the city council on behalf of the proposed graffiti ordinance Tuesday night. Photo by Andy Sevilla.
By ANDY SEVILLA
A heated debate yielded an inconclusive result at Tuesday night’s meeting of the San Marcos City Council.
The council unanimously decided to once again table a controversial ordinance dealing with discretionary police authority. This time, the ordinance would have given police the powers to site persons carrying graffiti implements within ten feet of public infrastructure.
Earlier this month, the council tabled a “host responsibility” ordinance revision that would have replaced references to “unlawful level of noise” with “excessive level of noise,” giving police officers the authority to determine how much noise is excessive.
“We need to have faith that our officers have judgment,” San Marcos Mayor Susan Narvaiz said Tuesday night. “If we don’t have that faith we shouldn’t be employing them.”
Citizens and councilmembers argued Tuesday night against the proposed graffiti ordinance, which would make it illegal to carry indelible markers and/or aerosol cans within ten feet from public infrastructure.
“It seems like this is gonna be another unenforceable personal responsibility ordinance y’all are trying to implement,” said Texas State student Dan McCarthy, who ran for mayor last year. “It’s just not gonna help (with curtailing graffiti), I don’t think.”
Another remark during citizens comment period came from San Marcos resident Kara Sweidel, who said she has a problem with police having discretionary authority on whether it was appropriate to carry a marker in her backpack.
“To say that someone may or may not carry implements is not a law that this city needs,” Sweidel said. “The way it’s written now is not acceptable.”
Among the ordinance’s dissenters, Councilmember Chris Jones was the most vocal in opposition to the proposed legislation.
“What we’re making policy on is on hypothetical situations and preventing hypothetical situations,” said Jones. “I think this is bad policy.”
The ordinance would provide for police officers to use “reasonable” judgment in issuing citations. The officers would have to question why an apparent offender was present at the location and why that person carried restricted materials.
“We have no way to intervene before damage is done,” San Marcos Police Chief Howard Williams said. “What we’re asking for is permission to have a reasonable officer, who sees a person preparing to affix graffiti and with implementation (tools), to cite them.”
Jones said the policy goes too far and that other methods may be more productive, adding that the ordinance is not necessary as it only reiterates what police are hired for.
“What would be more of a deterrent; the presence of officers or an ordinance?” Jones asked. “To catch them we’re going to need officers there.”
“It’s going to be very difficult to guarantee we’ll have an officer there to catch someone affixing graffiti,” Williams said.
Narvaiz said concerns of a “far-reaching government” are present. However, she said the ordinance should not just be about holding people accountable, but getting to the root of the problem and figuring out why graffiti is being affixed.
“I don’t like (the ordinance) anymore than the next person,” Narvaiz said. “But we have issues our citizens want us to address.”
Last year the city purchased a $32,000 soda-blaster in efforts to remove affixed graffiti. Williams said the ordinance amplifies the council’s energy to eradicate unwanted markings.
Councilman John Thomaides asked whether discretionary authority was appropriate in all circumstances. He painted a scenario in which a group of kids is present with backpacks in an area where graffiti is affixed, and asked Williams whether searching them is an option.
“The officer is going to have to rely on his training on what is a reasonable search and what is not a reasonable search,” Williams said. “The act of graffiti takes five seconds, but the possession of the implements takes time.”
Jones expressed frustration in the lack of data available to warrant such an ordinance, adding that “due diligence” was not performed by the police department before recommending the legislation to council.
“There’s parts of this (ordinance) I feel I can support,” Thomaides said. “And there’s other parts that I can’t.”
Director of Community Services Rodney Cobb said the battle against graffiti is working, but not as effectively as desired.
“We’ve done a bridge three times because as soon as we get it off, (graffiti) goes back on again,” Cobb said. “We need to stay on top of it.”
Williams said currently graffiti is being removed only from public infrastructure, but added that private property owners are starting to speak-up and solicit help in removing ill-favored markings. Among them is the San Marcos CISD.Email | Print