Graffiti Resource Council Testifies Against State-Wide Lock Up in Arizona

On Feb. 23, Graffiti Resource Council (GRC) staff testified before the Arizona State Legislature’s House Committee on County and Municipal Affairs during an informational hearing on lock-up and graffiti vandalism. This year Committee Chair, Rep. Doug Coleman (D-16), sponsored HB 2425 — a bill spurred by the City of Phoenix’s Neighborhood Services Department’s efforts to reduce graffiti vandalism — which would create lock-up provisions for retailers who sell spray paint. The City of Phoenix has had a lock-up ordinance in effect since 2009 and has had an active Anti-Graffiti Task Force since 2011. A dozen other cities in Arizona have adopted lock-up ordinances or other restrictions on retailers such as customer registration, as well.

The GRC is a nonprofit corporation that provides information, education, and legislative assistance to help communities develop effective policies and programs that prevent graffiti vandalism. Funded by the aerosol coatings industry, which is concerned about the negative impact of graffiti vandalism on America’s communities, GRC’s primary goal is to prevent graffiti vandalism and provide creative solutions that promote graffiti-free communities.

Lock-up is a policy whereby retailers that sell or display graffiti implements such as spray paint are required to keep the implements behind a locked cabinet, so customers must have store employees assist them in order to shop for these items. Throughout its 20-year history, the GRC has opposed lockup as a solution for graffiti vandalism and, as an alternative, has worked with cities seriously considering retail restrictions to, in the alternative, adopt its Responsible Retailing Program. The elements of Responsible Retailing include signage, prudent display of aerosol coatings and markers, employee training and a policy governing sales to minors. GRC has been successful in combating bans and lock-up ordinances for spray paint across the United States. Since its inception, more than 18 cities have implemented Responsible Retailing in lieu of lock-up ordinances, including San Diego, Detroit, Baltimore, Sacramento, Oakland, and the state of Texas.

Although HB 2425 died in late February in the Committee on Judiciary and Rules, Chairman Coleman invited interested parties, including the GRC, to provide information to the Committee on anti-graffiti strategies for retail stores and educate the Committee members. The proposed lock-up provision states that “it is unlawful for any person who owns, conducts, operates or manages a business where graffiti implements are sold or for any person who sells or offers for sale graffiti implements to store or display, or cause to be stored or displayed, the graffiti implements in an area that is accessible to the public without employee assistance in the regular course of business pending legal sale or other disposition.” The bill would have established a penalty of at least $500 for retailers who fail to lock up graffiti implements. The bill also would have banned the sale of spray paint to minors and contains other restrictions and penalties for minors.

The Arizona legislature has seen lock-up legislation proposed in prior sessions. Last year, there were two bills, HB 2243 and HB 2590, both of which were unsuccessful in garnering support.

Speaking in opposition to lock-up were members of the Arizona Retailers Association, an association in which the GRC is an associate member. The Retailers Association members addressed the costs that are imposed on retailers for being required to have lock-up or other display regulations, and spoke to the loss in sales and burden on consumers that lock-up causes.

In its testimony, GRC staff emphasized that taking a legitimate consumer product off of open shelves and requiring floor personnel to assist customers adds time and inconvenience to the consumer purchase decision, thus dramatically cutting sales. The GRC testified that the principal concern with applying supply-side controls to a graffiti problem is that they do not prevent or eliminate graffiti vandalism; but rather, lock-up ordinances have a negative effect on retail sales and a loss of valuable tax revenue for a city. GRC has received feedback from its members that not only are aerosol coating sales reduced by approximately one third with lock-up, but lock-up reduces ancillary sales and walk-in sales, as well.

The GRC also addressed the practical concerns with lock-up achieving its intended purpose: because graffiti vandals have alternative sources of paint and are willing to use alternative tools such as markers, paint sticks and etching tools, supply-side controls simply cannot control the supply.

In its testimony, GRC staff also underscored that, currently, there are no states that have passed a statewide statute to lock up spray paint; that this is typically an issue handled at the city level. The GRC reiterated the Retailer Association’s concerns that Arizona’s cities already have a variety of anti-graffiti requirements, so adding a layer of regulations would unnecessarily complicate a retailer’s efforts to comply.

The GRC concluded by encouraging more comprehensive approaches to addressing graffiti vandalism, such as education, law enforcement, community involvement and most importantly, swift abatement. GRC’s own research indicates that several of Arizona’s cities are actively dealing with graffiti vandalism and have put pressure on state legislators to consider state-wide strategies. This recent informational hearing is a sign that there will likely be additional lock-up legislation in the Arizona Statehouse in next year’s session