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Graffiti, a Sign of Spring?

A recent spate of graffiti causes only mild concern for businesses, more for police.

Despite a recent outbreak of graffiti in Waukesha, downtown business owners and police alike say the city doesn’t have a “graffiti problem.”

Police are investigating three incidents in the downtown Waukesha area and seven in other nearby areas of Waukesha that occurred over the last two weekends.

One reason for the upsurge in graffiti could be the simple explanation of nicer weather allowing vandals the opportunity.

“Whenever the weather starts to get nicer, complaints start to go up,” Police Capt. Dennis Angle said.

There are a couple of different ideas about the graffiti that the police are investigating, according to Angle.

The graffiti could be gang-related tagging, general vandalism and/or someone wanting to make threats against the police department. Police are investigating the incidents and have a detective and others with gang training reviewing the graffiti, Angle said.

As of now, police do not think all the incidents are related.

The three graffiti incidences in the downtown area directly referenced the police department. One said R.I.P. W.P.D. and another reads: “Waukesha Police = War on Terror.”  

The graffiti in the other areas of town were on the railroad bridge near Dunbar and Marshall; the State Department of Transportation building in the 500 block of West Newhall; a business in the 1300 block of White Rock Avenue; storage units in the 1700 block of Pewaukee Road and a business in the 2300 block of Pewaukee Road; Waukesha Memorial Hospital; and Waukesha North High School.

Downtown business owners are watching the graffiti situation carefully but do not see this outbreak as a resurgence of the problems the city had in the past.

“Then it was it was all over town. Once it even happened in the middle of the day. This is just a few isolated incidences,” said Vicky Hekkers, who owns the M&M building on the corner of Maple Avenue and West Main Street that was recently vandalized.

On the other end of downtown, Norm Bruce, owner of Martha Merrell Books & Café, and Sally Shoemaker, owner of Cuddles, agree.

“We were here when there was a huge problem,” Bruce said. “This isn’t a big problem.”

Things are much better now, thanks to strong community policing, a block watch program and the tight-knit group of business owners on the look-out, according to Bruce.

Shoemaker said that the police department has been great about talking to merchants about what they can do to prevent problems, like increasing lighting and keeping the area clean. Plus, there has been a return of pride in the downtown area.

“The important thing is to clean it up right away,” Bruce said. “The faster it gets cleaned up, the less it gets seen.”

The less it gets seen, the less satisfaction the vandal receives, according to Bruce.

The graffiti on the M&M building was cleaned up shortly after the incident, as was the graffiti on a business near the Riverwalk. A wide swath of graffiti remains on the side of the office building on Wisconsin Ave.

About the recent increase in graffiti, Shoemaker also thinks weather plays a part.

“It’s springtime and people who do this are out,” Shoemaker said.

Bruce is confident that the police will catch whoever is behind the incidents.

“Our response is that it’s being taken care of," Bruce said. "For now, we’ll keep our eyes wider open.”

Meghan Sprager, the new Business Improvement District executive director, said that the recent incidences of graffiti were generally talked about at a meeting but that she hasn’t had any calls or complaints from businesses. Still, she’s aware.

“Anytime there is property damage, it’s a concern,” she said.

Key Westconsin owner Gary Krivos shrugged his shoulders slightly when asked if he was concerned about the graffiti that was spray-painted on a neighboring business.

“Things happen and you deal with it,” he said. “It’s not in the Top 10 of things I’m worried about.”

The most important thing people can do about graffiti is to call police if they see someone who is acting in a suspicious manner or if they see someone with materials that can used to deface property, like a Sharpie or spray can, making sure to give a good description, Angle said. Also, if they see graffiti, they should call it in to the police so that it can be investigated.

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