In an NYPD internal directive issued on May 2, 2014, a re-emphasis was placed on wiping out graffiti in New York City. Now, police officers carry black, red, and white aerosol spray paint with orders to photograph graffiti, then “box it out” and paint it over “in a professional manner.” According to the directive, officers should target “identifiable tags, not large murals” such as those produced legally by the Bushwick Collective in areas such as Williamsburg and Long Island City, where the internationally famous graffiti mecca 5 Points was recently white-washed by developers. Graffiti patrols are currently stalking Bushwick, Brownsville, and Bedford-Stuyvesant, and the there has been an increased emphasis on arresting graffiti artists.

Last week, the NYPD issued an unusually self-congratulatory press release about the arrest of Adam Cole, better known to New Yorkers as COST, whose murals and wheatpastes have been a familiar sight for decades.

COST was a major player in the city’s street art scene in the 1990’s, when his all-caps COST signature tributes to himself where plastered on every available surface throughout the city. After a decade-long hiatus, COST reappeared in early 2013 and began peppering Manhattan scaffolds, walls, and street signs with his unique insignia. According to the police, Cole was busted by officer Colin Sullivan, who had been tracking Cole for months and had been urging his colleagues in the weirdly-named Cabaret Unit to be on the look-out for the for Cole. Apparently, the unit, which focuses on quality of life crimes in Manhattan’s 6th Precinct, caught Cole in the act, while he was walking away from a fresh tag with his clothes covered in wheatpaste.

Cole was arrested and charged with criminal mischief, a felony, as well as misdemeanors such as possession of graffiti instruments and making graffiti relating to nine separate incidents. He was released after paying $2,500 cash bail. The NYPD executed a search warrant on Cole’s car and recovered adhesive, brushes and hundreds of stickers and posters with COST printed on them.

Opinions on the seriousness of graffiti and the NYPD’s efforts to combat it have been mixed. While Police Commissioner Bratton has been outspoken about his hatred for the art form, many officers have been less enthusiastic. One officer told the New York Post that “Some of these neighborhoods are really dangerous. There should be more of a focus on serious crime.” A high-ranking officer commented earlier this year that “Summer is right around the corner. Shootings always go up in the warmer months. This year is no exception. You can’t have officers wasting their time on graffiti taggers.” If one thing is clear from these statements, it’s that police are not happy with their new duties, and citizens should not be complacent either. The NYPD directive will divert police resources away from crime and problems that actually affect the city, and thus will cause more harm than good.

Whether you feel graffiti is a legitimate art form or not, there are much larger issues at stake here. Instead of experimenting with new ways to eradicate graffiti, New York City government should spend more time addressing systemic problems that cause graffiti in the first place.

Sources: New York Post, Village Voice, Gothamist.com

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