How to Develop an Anti-Graffiti Regulation

How to Develop an Anti-Graffiti Regulation

The GRC helps cities and municipalities develop effective programs to prevent and eliminate graffiti vandalism. The GRC suggests best practices, strategies for outreach with city and community groups, advocacy, and examples of successful programs that other cities have used to address the problem. While these approaches play an important part in a comprehensive approach to implementing an anti-graffiti program, one of the most effective tools that cities should have to address graffiti vandalism is a strong regulatory framework that defines and criminalizes graffiti vandalism, provides for necessary definitions, appropriate penalties, and a variety of abatement options.

Is it necessary to adopt a regulation?

Many cities and municipalities have public nuisance laws and general property damage crimes.  Oftentimes those laws are not enough to address graffiti vandalism because they do not clearly include graffiti as a crime or provide for the appropriate remedies. Therefore, without a firm regulatory framework, a community may not be able to maximize its opportunities to penalize perpetrators of graffiti vandalism and require clean up.

How Do I Start?

A comprehensive model regulation already exists.  In the mid-1990’s, the International Municipal Lawyers Association’s (IMLA)  developed a comprehensive Model Anti-Graffiti Ordinance. The IMLA Model is based on provisions contained in the ordinances from the following cities and counties: Chula Vista, Los Angeles County, Redlands, and San Diego, California; Wilmington, Delaware; Dade County and Hollywood, Florida; Aurora and Chicago, Illinois; Boston, Massachusetts; Rochester, Minnesota; and Portland, Oregon.

IMLA strongly recommends that a local government consult its legal counsel when considering the adoption of an anti-graffiti ordinance or the amendment of an existing anti-graffiti measure.

What Should be Included in a Comprehensive Anti-Graffiti Ordinance?

The IMLA Model contains the following sections: 

    • Purpose and Intent
    • Definitions
    • Prohibited and Anti-Vandalism Provisions
    • Display Restrictions and Accessibility to Aerosol Coatings and Wide-Tipped Markers (Graffiti Implements)
    • Rewards and Reimbursements for Information
    • Graffiti as Nuisance
    • Removal by Perpetrator
    • Removal by Property Owner or City
    • Ease of Removal Provisions
    • Trust Fund
    • Severability 

When drafting an anti-graffiti ordinance for your community, it may not be necessary to include all of the sections mentioned above.  Keep in mind that the IMLA Model Ordinance is a model.  Consequently, local governments may adopt the entirety of the regulation; or only those sections which are necessary to bolster the community’s existing regulations. 

IMLA also includes a very good discussion of the legal analysis for the essential provisions of the Model Anti-Graffiti Ordinance.  A review of this section will help your community develop a legally sound regulation that is targeted to serve the needs of your community. 

Examples of Cities that have adopted portions of the IMLA Model Anti-Graffiti Ordinance


The IMLA Model Anti-Graffiti Ordinance applies to retail stores that sell aerosol coatings and wide-tipped markers.  While many other products can be used in graffiti vandalism, the Model Ordinance contains display and accessibility requirements for these products due to their popularity with graffiti vandals.  GRC has developed a 4 step program to assist retail stores comply with these requirements and help the retail community become a part of the solution to graffiti vandalism. 

Retailers Can be Part of the Solution: Responsible Retailing

All retail stores are assets to communities. Retail stores provide goods, services, quality jobs and tax revenue to the community. However, retail stores that sell aerosol coatings and wide tipped markers must be aware that these products are used widely in graffiti vandalism. One way to become a part of the solution to graffiti vandalism is to implement a program that requires constant awareness of these display areas to ensure that aerosol coatings and markers are purchased legitimately.  . Implementation of a Responsible Retailing Program will make retailers partners in the effort to eliminate graffiti vandalism. 

What is Responsible Retailing?

The elements of Responsible Retailing include signage, prudent display of aerosol coatings and markers, employee training and a policy governing sales to minors

The Responsible Retailing Program is a direct, yet practical response to this dilemma. It deprives graffiti vandals of legitimate products they misuse to commit property crimes by helping retailers to educate employees and to step up internal security with minimum disruption to the legitimate customer.  Simply put, Responsible Retailing is a combination of in-store activities designed to prevent or reduce potential graffiti tools from getting into the wrong hands. By implementing the Responsible Retailing Program, participating retailers can send a message to their customers and to their neighbors that they care about the community's problems and are willing to take an active role in solving them.

STEP 1: Proper Signage

Signs are an obvious and clear strategy to raise awareness about issues of importance.  Signs will help communicate to employees and customers that graffiti vandalism is against the law and destroys valuable property and property values! The signs serve as fair warning to those who attempt to steal or purchase potential graffiti tools, and are an effective way to communicate that the retailer does not tolerate or support graffiti vandalism.

Location of Signs:  Since this effort is designed to raise awareness in employees and customers about the illegality and destructive nature of graffiti vandalism, appropriate signs could be placed in those areas where employees and customers will see them.  For employees, such areas could be the lunch room bulletin board or the location where employee notices are required to be posted.  For customers, appropriate locations include near the display for aerosol coatings, or by the cashier station. 

Content of the Signs:  Signs should clearly and properly state the current law regarding graffiti vandalism and theft.  Examples of signage are included below.









Dimensions and Design of Signage:  Signs must be large enough to generate notice from both employees and customers.  Letters must be at least ½ inch high and the dimensions of the sign should be at least 11 inches by 14 inches. 

STEP 2: Prudent Display of Graffiti Implements in Store

Retailers should display aerosol paint or markers in a way that places them in the line-of-sight of customer service personnel, either directly or through the use of mirrors, cameras or other devices, during all times the store is open to the public. This option is a practical way to monitor these displays and ensure a secure environment that will discourage theft.  Responsible Retailing will provide the awareness and security necessary to prevent illegal access to products by graffiti vandals and to retain and improve legitimate business.

STEP 3: Employee Training

Employees should be made aware of graffiti problems and understand the importance of working together to combat graffiti vandalism.  Employee Training can be accomplished in a store meeting, through brochure/handbook, or in individual discussions. Employees should be informed about existing anti-graffiti laws and any new in-store policies (Responsible Retailing), so that they can effectively implement any anti-theft initiatives.  Employees should also receive instruction on where to place signage and how to effectively monitor displays of aerosol coatings and markers.

STEP 4:  Store Policy on Sale to Minors

Many cities and municipalities restrict the sale of aerosol coatings and markers to minors under the age of 18 by regulation.  Such a regulation requires customer service representatives to ask for identification when these products are purchased so that the date of birth can be confirmed.  This type of regulation strives to restrict the sale of potential graffiti tools to adults over 18 and those minors with a legitimate purpose.  Without such a regulation, compelling a restriction on sales to minors is a more complex strategy and should be developed carefully. 

Should such a restriction on sales be voluntarily adopted by the retail community, a very thoughtful protocol should be developed and all employees should be trained in this protocol.  The protocol should include appropriate signage, along with talking points for customer service representatives. 

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