Wednesday, September 12, 2007

New Vandalism Law Signed

By Mark Lawton
Pioneer Press News-Star

Conviction rates of vandals might increase under a new state law signed Aug. 30.
The bill, which becomes law on June 1, 2008, removes the requirement that property owners testify in person against alleged vandals.
"The problem in trying to prosecute vandals is that business owners get hurt twice," said State Rep. John Fritchey, D-11th, who sponsored the bill. "Once when they get vandalized and a second time when they have to go downtown and testify. Many businesses are mom and pop operations. Going to court means they might have to close their businesses for half a day or day."
The victim of vandalism would still have to submit a written statement but the onus would change from the victim to the person charged.
"This bill really legislates a common sense presumption that the business owner did not give permission to have their property vandalized," said Fritchey.
The most common type of vandalism in the West Town area is an acid which is normally used by artists to etch glass. Vandals have used it to carve graffiti on storefront windows, said Kara Salgado, executive director of the West Town Chamber of Commerce.
"There are insurance issues," said Salgado. "And the landlord's not going to cover the cost of fixing it. And a lot of people end up living with it. To consumers coming from outside the area, when they see something riddled with graffiti, it makes them think it's unsafe in some way."
Jamie Simone, program manager of Special Service Area 33, says removing acid etching can get rather expensive. Graffiti can be buffed down for $150 to $450 per marking. If extensive enough, it can cost less to replace a window.
The Special Service Area has a rebate program for business owners who want to install anti-graffiti film on their store windows. Such protection, however, ranges in cost from $500 to $1900.
A bit north, the problem involves various types of graffiti including spray paint and picture taped or glued to stores, said Paula Barrington, executive director of the Wicker Park and Bucktown Chamber of Commerce.
"It's a very big issue," said Barrington. "In particular, when you drive on our commercial streets and see volumes of graffiti on storefronts and private homes. It certainly impacts a business owners' pocket book."

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