Precisely at 7 a.m. Monday, Richard Whitefield pedaled into Shoshone Park and reported for work with the city’s Anti-Graffiti Unit – just as he was ordered to do by Erie County Judge Sheila DiTullio.
Whitefield, 26, of Buffalo, is an admitted graffiti vandal who was sentenced to remove the graffiti he and other vandals placed on viaducts, fire hydrants and overpasses throughout the city.
Tall and thin, Whitefield was silent as he stood in the city-owned garage to await his work assignment.
When asked why he defaced property with his tag, “BCUZ,” Whitefield declined to comment, explaining he could not put his thoughts into words.
Defense attorney Michael T. Dwan believed community service was an “appropriate” sentence for his client.
“I think it’s what the public needs,” said Dwan. “We don’t need to be wasting our money incarcerating this kid. What he did was harmful to the community, and he needs to make good on it, and he’s going to do that. Richie is going to have 1,000 hours of hard work to contemplate why it is not OK to deface other people’s property, and I believe those 1,000 hours will be very instructive.”
Whitefield pleaded guilty in February to two felony counts of third-degree criminal mischief and two misdemeanor counts of making graffiti. In doing so, he admitted to defacing a retaining wall near the Peace Bridge and a pedestrian bridge over the Scajaquada Expressway.
Graffiti is a crime that costs communities across the country more than $8 billion a year to clean up, according to the American Planning Association. Locally, the growing graffiti problem has expanded beyond Buffalo to suburbs including Grand Island, Lancaster, West Seneca and the City and Town of Tonawanda.
Many municipalities, including Niagara Falls, have adopted a zero-tolerance policy when dealing with the arrest and prosecution of serial “taggers,” who can cause up to $1,500 damage with a single can of spray paint.
Just as cities are grappling with increasing graffiti crime, they are also debating proper sentencing guidelines. In Santa Barbara, Calif., and Corpus Christi, Texas, gang-related graffiti vandals have received jail time. In Santa Clarita Valley, Calif., a prolific vandal who possessed methamphetamine was sentenced to 270 days in jail, 160 hours of graffiti removal, $14,000 in restitution and drug rehab.
The nearly three-month lag from Whitefield’s sentencing in April to last Friday, when he began serving the sentence, arose from scheduling conflicts with Whitefield’s full-time employment, authorities said. Without making allowances to enable him to keep his job, his ability to pay the court-ordered $1,000-plus in fines and cleanup costs would have been compromised.
Whitefield was also sentenced to five years’ probation.