Graffiti is like a staph infection -- treat it immediately or risk dire consequences. No, graffiti isn't going to make you physically ill, but you'd be sickened by what it can do to a community.
That's especially true of a community like Portsmouth, widely known for its murals.
Other, larger cities across the country, places like Los Angeles and its suburbs, are virtually at war with graffiti "artists," more commonly called taggers.
Some of the blight is traced to messages from gang to gang, marking their turf and warning others to stay out. They are death threats. In fact, Los Angeles, for example, has hundreds of gang deaths every year, not to mention innocent bystanders -- men, women and children.
Still others are elaborate creations, the handiwork of would-be artists using our communities as their canvasses. Regardless, there is one factor -- the cost to communities.
Some resemble battle zones. Razor wire is spread over major freeways to stop these vandals from defacing walls and overpasses. Graffiti is painted over, again and again. Some taggers even stop on busy freeways in early morning hours to scrawl their messages on concrete dividers
Nothing is immune, not schools, or businesses or even homes close by.
Graffiti costs taxpayers millions of dollars very year.
Whole departments exist to do nothing more than combat graffiti using all the latest techniques at their disposal. Police now are using surveillance cameras to ID perpetrators.
Fortunately, Portsmouth and its environs don't have a graffiti problem of that scope. Some of the most popular places in the city for vandalism include the overpass on Chillicothe Street and the wall at the end of Offnere Street and on Gallia Street, where there is a long wall.
Vandals recently marred the river side of Portsmouth's flood wall.
It was left for a period of time. But even a little is too much in this community.
Experts will tell you the best defense against graffiti is to remove it immediately.
"We usually try to cover it up or get it covered up as soon as we can. We get paint and cover it up as soon as the police call. It's usually dry by the time it's discovered and it's too late to try to remove it," said Julia Clark of the city's Publlic Service Office.
"The city is looking now at putting a 'clear coat' on some of the areas where it happens. Then all we would have to do is power wash it," she said.
There are other approaches in the works. Portsmouth Police Capt. Robert Ware said he's working on a plan with Chris Murphy (public service director) to provide some money for education.
"We could take these kids who have artistic talent and turn it into a positive. Let them paint a mural, for instance, instead of graffiti. Teach them how bad graffiti can make a community look," he said.
Officials also are looking at graffiti abatement programs that have worked in other cities.
It will take just minutes for residents to report graffiti, but those few minutes are an investment in this community's future. Let's all help out.
ART KUHN is the managing editor of the Daily Times. Contact him at (740)) 353-3101, ext. 244, or
e-mail at akuhn@heartland publications.com.