People caught with graffiti tools like spray paint will have to show intent to do graffiti before police can cite or arrest them under an ordinance change the Wichita City Council approved Tuesday.
The council voted 6-1 to amend a recently passed law that allowed police to cite or arrest someone for possessing such banned graffiti items as spray paint cans or broad-tipped markers on or within 100 feet of public places.
The change came after Ram Hull, a 25-year-old cartoonist and illustrator, told the council in September that the original ordinance, approved in August, opened the door for potential abuse by police.
Police and the city's legal staff worked together to make a clarification. They recommended adding a clause that says a person has to show "intent to place graffiti on the property," and the council approved that.
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The only dissenting vote was cast by Paul Gray.
"I just don't think this law will affect (graffiti)," he said. "It's like saying what law will end robbery."
Hull attended the meeting but didn't address the council. He was satisfied with the revision.
"I think it's a good move to find a balance between empowering the police and empowering the population to defend themselves," Hull said. "That's really what the goal was."
Police Lt. Heather Bachman presented the revision to the council.
Asked if the change would limit police, she said, "Anytime you add another element, it's going to require we work a little bit harder to prove cases."
But she said the law will still help police curtail graffiti.
Graffiti is an increasing problem. City statistics show that in 2009, the Central Inspection Department's cost for removing graffiti rose to $290,954, up $10,000 from the previous year.
That doesn't include the cost of removal by private entities and the Park Department.
Bachman said the problem with graffiti goes beyond the financial cost.
"It's the messages that are put out there," she said. "Gang members are talking back and forth with graffiti. It adds to other issues with violent crimes."