Wichita may alter its graffiti law

The city may touch up its new anti-graffiti law that empowers police to arrest people who have spray paint or broad-tipped markers on or within 100 feet of public property.

Several council members say they've asked the city's legal and police departments to analyze new wording proposed by a Wichita State University student who researched other cities' laws.

The wording requires police to show the person had "intent to place graffiti on property without the consent of the owner... "

Ram Hull, a 25-year-old WSU student, said that could provide artists a way to defend themselves by proving they didn't have malicious intent.

"I understand why they want the law the way it was, but it's far too open to potential abuse," he said.

His proposal stems from a Washington, D.C., law.

City Council member Jim Skelton saw Hull's letter to council members on Friday and said he wants the city to look into the change.

Skelton said graffiti is rampant in the city — and in his southeast district — and he supported the tougher law last month.

"But I understand how this might seem vague and arbitrary, so let's address that concern," he said.

Wichita's new law came after months of discussion by a task force formed in 2008. Council members discussed the proposal in workshops and at their meetings.

But several council members said that after the vote they started getting a lot of critical e-mails, most of them apparently from WSU students.

Mayor Carl Brewer said he doesn't think police would shake down art students for having supplies, but he said he's willing to examine an alternative.

It's hard for police to catch vandals in the act, he said, so the new law gives police a way to hold people accountable when they're obviously involved with the graffiti.

"But you try to find a happy medium in there somehow," he said.

Council member Janet Miller said she's open to an alternative.

But because the law may not have even been used since it went into effect, the city may want to wait six months or a year to analyze how it is being used.

"It's really easy to be swayed in one direction when you hear a lot from one perspective," she said.

But things change after hearing both sides.

"Sometimes you can swing all the way to the other side or somewhere in the middle," she said.

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