Paint and pressure washing: Graffiti Busters work to keep Phoenix ahead of blight

Graffiti Buster Michael Rios sprays white paint onto the bricks of a vacant auto shop at Central Avenue and Garfield Street in downtown Phoenix on Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2022. The Graffiti Busters use color matching to erase the graffiti and make it look like it was never there. (Photo by Alex Gould/Cronkite News)

Graffiti Busters take before-and-after photos of graffiti they remove, as Michael Rios does in downtown Phoenix on Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2022. (Photo by Alex Gould/Cronkite News)

Graffiti Buster Michael Rios dips a paint brush in black paint to cover graffiti on a fence facing Central Avenue in downtown Phoenix on Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2022. “It is a passion of mine to go out there and make the city beautiful,” he says. (Photo by Alex Gould/Cronkite News)

Graffiti Buster Michael Rios sprays a dumpster in a parking lot south of Roosevelt Street in downtown Phoenix on Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2022. Although the graffiti was on the back of the dumpster, Rios sprayed the sides and front to make the color uniform. (Photo by Alex Gould/Cronkite News)

Graffiti Buster Michael Rios paints an electrical box in the alleyway between Central Avenue and First Street in downtown Phoenix on Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2022. The Busters use various methods to remove graffiti, such as paint sprayers, rollers and brushes, and power washing. (Photo by Alex Gould/Cronkite News)

Graffiti Buster Michael Rios sits on his Phoenix Neighborhood Services Department truck on the morning of Feb. 8, 2022. Rios started at 6 a.m., and by 9:20 a.m., he already was halfway to his goal of 40 removals for the day. (Photo by Alex Gould/Cronkite News)

Graffiti Buster Michael Rios poses next to his Phoenix Neighborhood Services Department truck on Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2022. Rios has been with the Graffiti Busters for seven years. (Photo by Alex Gould/Cronkite News)

Graffiti Buster Michael Rios paints over graffiti on a white wall facing Central Avenue in downtown Phoenix on Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2022. The city employs 15 Busters, and the daily goal for removals is 40 per day per Buster. (Photo by Alex Gould/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – On an early Tuesday morning in February, Michael Rosi arrived at a vacant auto shop whose walls and windows are splattered with graffiti and tags. Equipped with a pressure washer, 18 paint colors, a paint sprayer and brushes, his goal was to make the building look as good as new.

February marks the eighth annual Graffiti-Free Phoenix Awareness Month, which encourages residents to help remove graffiti and learn how they can report it for removal. Not only is graffiti an eyesore, city officials point out, it’s a property crime.

The Graffiti Busters, who are part of the city’s Neighborhood Services Department, work seven days a week to remove graffiti from residential and commercial areas in the city. They provide this service for free – all residents have to do is report the graffiti and sign a permission form for its removal.

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(Video by Faith Abercrombie/Cronkite News)

“At the end of the day, it’s to make the community look a lot nicer than what it did that day we went into that community. We want to make it beautiful,” said Rios, who has been a Graffiti Buster for seven years. “It is a passion of mine to go out there and make the city beautiful.”

Between fiscal years 2016 and 2020, the crews reported 240,744 graffiti removals, 51,797 from July 1, 2020, through June 30, 2021, the latest data available. The city has 15 Graffiti Busters.

“When a building has a big tag on it, or even a small sign, you notice it, you realize that a crime has occurred,” said Betsy Cable, the city code compliance manager. “Our goal is to remove it to the point where it’s as if it never existed.”

By removing the graffiti and tags quickly, she said, it makes community members feel safe.

“I wish (graffiti) wasn’t so prevalent. But that’s why (the Graffiti Busters) are out there seven days a week to get it removed and to keep Phoenix looking as beautiful as possible and as clean as possible,” Cable said.

Report Phoenix graffiti on myPHX311 or call 602-534-4444.

Alex Gould ah-lex goo-old (he/him/his)
News Visual Journalist, Phoenix

Alex Gould expects to graduate in May 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in psychology. Gould, who is a photo intern with The Arizona Republic and a photo editor at The State Press, is working for the Phoenix news bureau.

Faith Abercrombie feyth ah-ber-crom-bee (she/her)
News Broadcast Reporter, Phoenix

Faith Abercrombie expects graduate in May 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communication. Abercrombie, who has interned with KPNX in Phoenix and was a videographer for the Phoenix Children’s Hospital Foundation, is working for the Phoenix news bureau.

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