Asheville police detail graffiti arrests, surveillance

You’ve probably seen their vivid, uniquely styled works on many a surface in Asheville. They use signature “tags” to mark their work, including ETCHR, LIFE, MOMS and WISDOM. They are the city’s graffiti artists, and if they didn’t know it before, they know now: The Asheville Police Department is on their case.

Painting the town: Graffiti in Asheville by someone using the tag ETCHR. The APD says it recently arrested a UNCA student, Austin Taylor Haltiwanger, who allegedly uses this tag. Photo by Jonathan Welch.

On Dec. 10, the APD issued a lengthy statement detailing its crackdown on graffiti, which, depending on your perspective, is either a public art form to be proud of or a costly form of property damage. The statement announced two recent arrests for “multiple, separate incidents of graffiti related vandalism” and listed 14 other alleged “prominent graffiti vandals” charged in 2008.

The arrests were the product of an almost year-long APD effort to wipe out graffiti, according to the APD, which says that in 2008, the department has logged 307 cases of “graffiti vandalism.” Investigators believe that to be about half of actual cases, since much graffiti goes unreported to authorities.

The statement shed new light on the extent of the department’s anti-graffiti efforts, reporting that officers have conducted more than 50 surveillance operations and devoted more than 500 hours of investigative time on countering local taggers.

Capt. Tim Splain of the department’s Criminal Investigations Division said that despite the aggressive campaign, “the public perception is that graffiti crime is increasing because this type of vandalism is so visible. We, as a community, need to continue to enforce existing laws, look toward restricting the availability of paints and markers used for graffiti vandalism, and work together toward a comprehensive graffiti removal program.”

The APD released the names, ages and other details about the arrestees, including, in many cases, the specific tags they are alleged to have used. See the full text of the graffiti-arrests summary at mountainx.com/XpressFiles.

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About Jon Elliston
An Asheville-based mountain journalist: Former Mountain Xpress managing editor. Investigations and open government editor at Carolina Public Press. Senior contributing editor at WNC magazine.

22 thoughts on “Asheville police detail graffiti arrests, surveillance

  1. SUSAN INGRAM

    I THINK SOME OF THE WORK IS TRULY BEAUTIFUL. BUT, AS WITH OTHER FORMS OF ART, IT IS NOT TO BE APPRECIATED BY EVERYONE. THE DAMAGE IS THE CONFLICTING POINT. IF THE “TAGGERS” AR SO PROUD OF THEIR WORK, WHY NOT OPEN AN ART GALLERY ESPECIALLY FOR THEM?

  2. Buefort

    I think taggers should paint their own houses and the houses of there friends and neighbors! Since they like it so much.

  3. gn0me

    yeah, we need to open a graffiti park in town. i’d say a good place is on the walls at the food lion skate park and maybe the huge wall across from the emerald lounge. i feel mixed about why graffiti artists paint on public property. part of it is because of the rush and getting your tag seen, but i also feel like they don’t have a large enough canvas to express themselves. i’d much rather have my tax dollars go toward something that can positively affect the community such as a graffiti park. i really enjoy graffiti and have spent time admiring the art form along riverside. i hate to see these talented people getting jailed by my tax money when i don’t support the apd in this. if a park is opened and graffiti continues spreading across town, then i say arrest them because you’ve given them a place to tag and they’re not using it.

  4. dave

    “The arrests were the product of an almost year-long APD effort to wipe out graffiti, according to the APD, which says that in 2008, the department has logged 307 cases of “graffiti vandalism.””

    So how’s that “wiping it out” going?

    I still see that ugly “STAPLES” tag at least once a week.

  5. Johnny

    “From an aesthetic standpoint, how is graffiti any worse than a billboard?”

    Have you seen the tags around town? Weak. No creativity, not graffiti art, just spray paint.

  6. Piffy!

    The APD obviously has no chance at doing anything substantial, so they are going after petty vandals.

    Personally, I can think of a number of things around town that are faaar more unsightly than a few small, insignificant tags on side streets.

  7. The Rocket Club

    Graffiti art has a history and is a valid art form. Unfortunately what is mostly seen in Asheville is like Bob Ross impressionism. They use the style, but are really an anachronism. 2008 Asheville is 30 years and hundreds of miles out of place.

    What no one is talking about is that the tags are also on PRIVATE property. When we got tagged by MOMS, our building was painted just a few weeks before. That was our money, time, and effort that went into the painting. We want our building to be pretty and silver, not covered with lame tags. There are many other small businesses who waste time and money removing graffiti because they are proud of what they are doing and the businesses they are creating.

    Yeah, I’m pissed off at being tagged. I’m even more angry that it is bad work though.

    There is a tagger in town who goes by Slim. He makes graffiti art, on objects and leaves them around. He has tagged our building, but did it on stickers that are easily removed. His work is good, smart and frequently commenting on the taggers who really have no skill, but all too much paint.

    Thanks Slim.

  8. I believe that the abandoned Ice Factory on Riverside would make for a wonderful graffiti gallery. With some simple clean-up and weeding, it would be a much safer place to walk around to admire the art… which can also be seen from the Haywood Rd. bridge, Riverside Drive, and the gravel thru-way below Phil Mechanic… giving the taggers a visible space to display their art.

    Watch the documentary “Bomb It” (available at Orbit DVD) and you will see that tagging is more than about art or vandalism… it is a compulsion, a sickness, like OCD. these people walk or drive past places and glaze over, imagining their tag in a specific spot, and then plan out how to get to that location, unnoticed, and how to most rapidly get their design down… it is a design process, and more than the thrill of “damning the man” it is a sense of accomplishment and personal pride, like checking a chore off a list.

    There are some brilliant tags around town, such as the HUGE upsidedown MOMS that at first appears to be warehouse lettering (visible from the other side of the Haywood Rd. bridge) that was supposedly done by the same tagger who did the tasteless black scribble on the side of the beautifully silver Rocket Club. This annomoly shows that while the artists do respect the art of graffiti, their sickness clouds their respect for society.

    It is unfortunate that the abandoned buildings get the beautiful and thought out murals while hardworking business get the brunt of scribbles and quick sprays…. it sickens me to see that these people cannot restrain themselves from pulling little pranks like that after accomplishing such great designs elsewhere.

    Unfortunately, A designated graffiti park would not stop the real taggers from doing their nocturnal renderings, but rather allow younger and newer taggers to practice up before hitting the streets.

  9. mS. UndRSTUd1

    a lot of you have decent points, and its good to see that some people atleast are starting to maybe see different sides of the story instead of just spouting off automatically about how lame graffiti is. i think for one most people in this country wouldnt know something artistic or creative or different if it jumped up and hit them in the face, and even if they did, wouldnt take the time to actually appreciate it. graffiti artists are a very strange group of people, who are driven by something much different from what most people can readily connect or identify with. the best graffiti writers are probably more driven by their passion than hardly anybody trying to do anything else. the world of graffiti is incredibly intense. it sucks you in so true and full that it will overtake people. that is why the police will never and can never completely eliminate graffiti, and why they should never even try in the first place. lets be honest, in any city of significant size, your going to have a certain amount of graffiti. personally, to know that the cops “have conducted more than 50 surveillance operations and devoted more than 500 hours of investigative time on countering local taggers”, to me is disgusting becuase it shows how much money we are throwing down the tubes on law enforcement. heres an idea, instead of tryin to keep 10 extra cops BUSY because your budget is WAY too extravagant, why not consider REDUCING the size of the police force so that we dont have to WASTE TAX DOLLARS trying to search for INDIVIDUAL TAGGERS IN A CITY!! honestly…living in a city comes with certain expenses. in our modern world if you want to own a business downtown in a city, or in the surrounding area, you should assume as a property owner that at some point your property may be vandalized. simple as that. now if you dont like that, maybe relocate, or, goodness, HERE’S a maverick idea, maybe just turn the TV off for a second and CLEAN IT UP YOURSELF!!! im sick of hearing people whine and whine about graffiti but just expect everyone else to fix it, its the same with all kinds of things, however graffiti seems to be a very obvious and easy example. reality check, its not going to stop, spending any significant amount of money trying to stop it is FUTILE, reconsider what the APD really needs to be doing, maybe that at certains times that COULD be NOTHING AT ALL, and try and understand what it is, and understand those who do it….just my oppinion tho…

  10. gn0me

    I understand that a graffiti park would not keep all taggers off the streets, but I feel it’s a positive step in the right direction and will conserve tax dollars that are endlessly funding enforcement of a lost cause. The graffiti at the ice factory is a great example of a park-like area where graffiti artists feel safe enough to put up their elaborate tags because it’s somewhat of a secluded area and there’s a lot of wall space. I agree the building should be turned into some sort of official, safe destination for graffiti artists, especially since it’s already in the arts district of west asheville. No, not all graffiti artists will respect personal property but I’m sure there are many that would love to have a place to go and share work and teach each other. Hell, I’d even enjoy going there with a can of paint and giving it a shot. I might have a hidden talent that I’d otherwise never know about. On a related side not, I’ve uploaded a few photos I’ve taken of very good graffiti from around asheville > http://www.buzzdphoto.com/graffiti

  11. I’ve always been proud that the graffiti in Asheville tends to be socially conscious, humorous, and relatively tasteful. For a while someone was using a stencil of Charlie Chaplin, painting it on electrical boxes up and down Merrimon and elsewhere. I thought it was kinda cool waiting at a red light, glancing over to see this odd Chaplin face staring at me for no apparent reason.

  12. Dina

    I don’t consider writing moms or tride, graffetti, they are sloppy tags and clearly those people have no artistic ability! They serve no other pupose than to deface someone elses property and make our neighborhoods look trashy! Get a job and take some art classes!

  13. Piffy!

    DINA_-So are you saying, then, that you arent against graffiti? And just because you dont like how it looks, hardly justifies the APD to waste time and money on an issue MOST are ambivalent about, at best.

    My guess is your opinion of ANY art would be highly uninformed and generally useless.

  14. Anthony

    I think America’s Laws are so stupid as well as the media calling us Street gangs and portraying us as criminals! Just to fill you in on some information I’m not a criminal nor are the people i do it with. The truth is we are good people we love what we do and we don’t tolerate any kind of criminal shit that you always hold against us. However stop destroying the art you fuck it up even more with those white blocks anyway!

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