City eyes $250 rewards for tips leading to Orillia graffiti arrests

The city could begin paying cash rewards, in partnership with Crime Stoppers, for tips leading to arrests of those responsible for graffiti.

Under a proposal that garnered council committee support, staff would seek $4,000 in the 2019 budget for a pilot project aimed at discouraging vandals from defacing local buildings by encouraging residents to keep their eyes peeled.

Coun. Sarah Valiquette-Thompson applauded the proposal as “an innovative approach” to a problem that continues to affect local businesses.

“I think this is really going to bring some closure and hopefully help resolve some of these issues,” she said.  

Rewards would be set at $250, with the city and Crime Stoppers each contributing half during the one-year pilot project.

The proposal, which requires council approval, is “a step in the right direction,” Coun. Mason Ainsworth said, adding some businesses and apartment buildings have been targets of “repeat attacks.”

Incidents of graffiti dropped slightly in 2018, with 91 incidents recorded as of the end of June this year (compared with 108 at the same time in 2017).

Five people were charged with graffiti-related mischief last year.

To date in 2018, no charges have been laid for graffiti.

Of the recommended $4,000 allocation, $2,500 would be earmarked for rewards, with the remainder going to promote the program.

Coun. Pat Hehn wondered about the potential effectiveness of providing an alleyway wall as a blank canvas for graffiti art — an idea discussed during her time on the city’s police board.

Staff has explored the idea through conversations with communities that pursued that route, said Shawn Crawford, Orillia’s manager of legislative services.

The measure “had no impact in actually reducing graffiti in those communities,” he said. “In a sense, it almost sort of promotes or supports graffiti, when in fact we don’t want graffiti to occur.”

Initiatives undertaken by the Orillia OPP to combat graffiti have included identifying downtown businesses equipped with cameras that project outside, mounting public education campaigns and encouraging retailers of spray paint to report potential suspects.

Orillia property owners are required to remove graffiti or have the city do it and be billed for the work.