Tagging may be on the increase again in West Auckland after an 18 month lull, but the team at the Tag Out Trust say this is predictable and they’re doing everything they can to curb the trend.
The anti graffiti effort is being led by Terry Davis, Tag Out Trust’s Community Services manager who is having considerable success in stopping tagging and turning at least some young offenders around.
With tagging often being a gateway to other crime, every tagger who changes his or her ways is one less who’s going to feature in the court records and arrest statistics in the future.
Terry has a keen understanding of both the minds of the young taggers and also the families they come from. He employs a wide range of techniques to battle the blight of tagging, working with the Ministry of Justice, CYFS, the Police and at the whanau level.
Decoding tags is one way of identifying taggers. Tagging is a form of boasting, or it can be a way to lay claim to “a patch of turf” and there’s not a lot of point in doing it if people don’t know that it’s your work. As a result, being able to decode the tags can lead directly to the taggers or their friends.
Restorative justice plays a significant role in Terry’s work as does mentoring, preventative work with primary school age children, working with families and programmes such as Neat Streets and Adopt a Spot.
Restorative justice means that taggers who are caught are referred to Terry and made to remove the graffiti. A hard and tedious task especially if it’s their own handiwork that the taggers are removing. It is also an opportunity for Terry to get alongside young offenders and earn their respect.
Neat Streets and Adopt a Spot are ways to empower people to reclaim their neighbourhoods. Empowerment in showing people that they can make difference and will be supported is very powerful, says Operations Manager Carl Bryant. The key, he says, is finding someone who will lead.
Working with whanau can also be a winner, “but only if the families buy in”, says Terry. Many do and that offers very real prospects of achieving lasting change.
Age is an important factor in preventing youngsters picking up the tagging habit. Typically there’s a four to five year window between about 12 years of age, (when children might start experimenting), and 17, (when they’re not likely to start). Accordingly, Terry will work with primary schools, getting the children involved in community pride projects which might include cleaning up litter in neighbourhoods or perhaps painting approved murals. These and community clean up days, are invaluable and between 80% and 90% of the kids are still “on message” for some years afterwards.