UTPD: graffiti, broken exit signs most common types of vandalism

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Random graffiti around campus and busted exit signs in residence halls cause headaches for University police and administration, and according to officials, they are the most prevalent types of vandalism around campus.

Officer Layne Brewster of UTPD’s crime prevention unit said graffiti is the most frequently reported type of vandalism on campus. From Jan. 1 to Oct. 14, Brewster said there have been 70 reports of graffiti of all forms — with restroom stalls, newspaper dispensers, trash cans and utility poles tagged regularly.

UT Facilities Services spokeswoman Laurie Lentz said Facilities Services is responsible for all graffiti cleanup on campus. Lentz said Facilities has four teams that cover four zones on campus. These teams, or “Zones,” are the first responders for outdoor graffiti removal.

Zone 2 supervisor Herb Woerndell said his team oversees maintenance of the central campus area, which encompasses most buildings on the original 40 Acres.

“We all get our hands into some graffiti,” Woerndell said. “Zone 2 is one of the highest visibility areas, and I get tagged pretty hard now and then.”

Woerndell said Walter Webb Hall, which is across the street from the Jesse H. Jones Communications Center, is a go-to canvas for graffiti artists and is tagged two to three times a month.

“The black wall facing Guadalupe Street is like a blackboard for graffiti,” Woerndell said. “Sometimes I guess what they do is climb a tree on the north side and get on the roof of the WWH and spray paint the wall over there. That’s been tagged more than a few times.”

From Jan. 1 to Oct. 14, UTPD responded to 93 reports of criminal mischief. Brewster said broken exit signs in residence halls are among the highest reported incidents. According to UTPD’s Campus Watch report, three separate reports of damaged exit signs inside Jester West were reported in the past week. 

Aaron Voyles, area manager for the University’s Division of Housing and Food Services, said broken exit signs are a recurring problem and should not be taken lightly. Although broken exit signs cost $75 to fix, Voyles said the cost of repair is secondary to the potential safety risks at hand.

“Damaged exit signs are immediately reported to UTPD and maintenance,” Voyles said. “These incidents are a primary concern for us because exit signs are life and safety equipment. They’re designed to make sure our students can safely exit the building during emergencies.”

Although an offensive sketch or subversive message is not life-threatening, removing graffiti is a source of frustration for Facilities employees. 

Graffiti wipes and pressure washers are effective on smooth walls around campus, Woerndell said. If statues are vandalized, the process is more difficult. Woerndell’s team once spent an entire day cleaning the Martin Luther King Jr. statue with soap and water because bronze statues can be damaged by chemically-treated cleaning products.

“If the wall is tagged pretty hard and the paint is soaked up real good, then Construction
will come over and sandblast it,” Woerndell said.

Lentz said Custodial Services cleans indoor graffiti, primarily in restrooms, that can be removed with standard cleaning products.

Sally Moore, associate director for Custodial Services, said custodians try to eliminate graffiti immediately.

“Experience has proven that any amount of graffiti attracts more graffiti, so our practice is to remove graffiti as soon as it’s noticed,” Moore said. “We also have surface coating products that make it difficult to write on the surface.”