Mailing Address

Development Services Dept
Code Enforcement Unit
P.O. Box 839966
San Antonio, Texas

Request for Code Services

Residents: 311
   Outside: (210) 207 6000

Office Phone Numbers

Phone: (210) 207 7881
FAX: (210) 207 0199

Graffiti - The Facts


Fast facts about graffiti | Frequently asked questions

Fast facts about graffiti

  • It costs America more than $8 billion per year just to clean up graffiti.
  • Immediate removal - within 24-48 hours - is the key to successful graffiti prevention.
  • There are four types of graffiti – tagging, satanic/hate, gang, and generic (non-threatening messages like "Bobby loves Suzy" or "Class of 2000"). San Antonio mainly deals with gang and tagging graffiti. Tagging graffiti is more ornate while gang graffiti uses symbols.
  • It is a common misperception that most graffiti is done by gangs when in fact gangs are responsible for less than 10% of graffiti.
  • Graffiti vandals represent every social, ethnic and economic background. Suburban males commit approximately 50% of graffiti vandalism from pre-teen to early 20s.
  • The average age of the arrested graffiti vandal is 17-18, with an overall broad range of 8-54.
  • Community paintbrush murals are rarely defaced by graffiti and instill a sense of pride among those who live nearby.
  • There are four primary motivating factors for graffiti vandalism: fame, rebellion, self-expression, and power.
  • Getting the media to publish photos and videotape of graffiti is often the ultimate fame for graffiti vandals.

Frequently asked questions

What is graffiti? Are there different kinds of graffiti?

You've probably seen graffiti somewhere in your community. It's the words, colors, and shapes drawn or scratched on buildings, overpasses, train cars, desks, and other surfaces. It's done without permission and it's against the law.

The term graffiti comes from the Greek word graphein, which means, "to write." Graffiti today ranges from simple, one-color monikers (like a nickname) repeated on many surfaces to complex compositions of several colors.

How is San Antonio really harmed by graffiti?

First, graffiti is a drain on your tax dollars. Funds that could be used for schools, roads, parks and other community improvements are used for graffiti clean up. Second, graffiti decreases a resident’s feeling of safety in a community. Neighborhoods with graffiti see a decrease in property values and loss of business growth and tourism. Finally, graffiti sends a signal that nobody cares, which attracts other forms of crime and street delinquency to the neighborhood.

Is all graffiti the same?

According to the National Council to Prevent Delinquency (NCPD), about 80% of graffiti is hip hop or "tagger" graffiti. Another 5% are "pieces". Nationally, gang graffiti makes up about 10%. Gang and tag graffiti make up most of San Antonio’s graffiti problem.

  • a "tag" is the graffiti vandal's moniker applied quickly and repetitively.
  • a "throw-up" is a more elaborate tag, usually done in two or more colors. Vandals often use balloon letters, which are filled in or left as outlines.
  • "Pieces," short for "masterpieces," are large, detailed drawings. They are colorful, can include cartoon-like characters, and may take an hour or more to complete.

Generic graffiti (or conventional graffiti) includes random markings, initials, declarations of love, social commentary, profanity, graduation events--"Class of 1997"--and other non-threatening messages. Generic graffiti has no particular style. Gang graffiti is used to mark gang territory, list members, offer drugs or contraband for sale, or send warnings to rivals. It may include letters, symbols, or numbers known only by gangs and law enforcement. Ideological or hate graffiti is any racial, religious, or cultural slur.

What happens to a graffiti writer who is caught? Is it really illegal?

Laws, codes, and ordinances that deal with graffiti vandalism may vary from community to community, but graffiti is illegal. Typically, graffiti falls under "institutional vandalism" or "criminal mischief." While a graffiti arrest may be considered a misdemeanor (a minor offense), more than one can add up to a felony.

Enforcement of graffiti laws may include any or all of the following:

  • Fines and restitution for graffiti markings.
  • Arrest and imprisonment.
  • Graffiti misdemeanors being stacked to allow for a felony conviction.
  • Parents or guardians fined or ordered to restore property to its original condition or provide restitution.

The penalty for tagging in San Antonio can be a misdemeanor if damage is less than $1500. Committing a graffiti act can also be a felony if damages are more than $1500. The degree of the felony depends on the amount of damage done. A misdemeanor includes a fine or time in jail, or both. It is a city ordinance that no one under 17 may purchase "implements of graffiti." This includes spray paint or big tipped markers. San Antonio treats graffiti as a crime, not a prank.

What is the best way to prevent graffiti?

There are two good ways to prevent graffiti. The first is to remove it promptly. While this may be difficult, studies show that removal within 24 to 48 hour results in a nearly zero rate of reoccurrence. The second is to turn a graffiti-plagued wall into a mural. Paintbrush murals are almost never hit with graffiti and are a great way to get a community involved in graffiti prevention. Murals can involve local artists, youth and community volunteers, and your local paint store, which may be willing to donate paint and brushes. San Antonio also offers a paint bank where residents can pick up recycled paint.

How do you remove graffiti?

There are several ways to remove graffiti. The most widely used is the paint-out, which is simply to paint over the graffiti. Another is using solvents or chemicals to remove graffiti. Water or sand blasting is also used.

What can I do to help prevent graffiti?

There are lots of things you can do! Consider organizing a paint-out or a paintbrush mural to cover a wall plagued with graffiti; adopt a wall in your school or community and make sure it stays clean and free of graffiti; report graffiti to the appropriate authorities; and lots more. Plus, there are many things kids and teachers can do at school and in your neighborhood.

What is the Graffiti Wipeout Program?

Graffiti Wipeout is a partnership between a number of local entities to create an awareness of resources that are available for graffiti abatement and eradication.

(Some information compiled with the assistance of