Detroit police graffiti task force cracks down on blight

Whether you consider graffiti artwork or vandalism, Detroit police are hard at work to put an end to it.     
FOX 2 got to see the city's graffiti task force hard at work. 

"Michigan Avenue is one of the hardest hit areas," said Sgt. Rebecca McKay of Detroit police.

McKay is making it her mission to take down the taggers in Detroit - cleaning up the city, one street, one building at a time.

"You can see the fresh paint on most of these buildings," she said.

McKay heads up DPD's general assignment unit, made up of officers working to improve the quality of life in the city. They crack down on every thing from graffiti and blight, to scrapping and illegal dumping.

McKay's investigation helped lead to the arrest of Shepard Fairey, a famous graffiti artist given the greenlight by business mogul Dan Gilbert to paint an 18-story mural.

But he took it upon himself to mark more than a dozen other city owned properties. Fairey has now been charged with two counts of malicious destruction of property. 

"Shepard Fairey is just one of many," McKay said. "But he wasn't a serious problem in our city. We've had many street artists that have been a much bigger problem." 

Someone may consider graffiti art. But it all comes down to permission - if you don't have it, it could cost you.  You could be facing a felony if you are caught and you will have to pay to clean it up.

McKay says her unit has arrested more than a dozen street artists mostly from the suburbs, responsible for damaging hundreds of properties.

Once the painters are picked up, they are punished. Forced to clean up the graffiti whether they are responsible for that specific vandalism or not.

"Maybe they didn't have anything to do with that," McKay said. "But they are cleaning graffiti, assisting the city to clean up the mess."

Even property owners, who are victims of tagging are being held to a higher standard. If no one is caught, the owner of the building will be forced to clean it up or pay a fine.

"If we don't get a handle on this who's going to move here," McKay said. "-Who's going to want to live here - who wants to live in a neighborhood covered in graffiti."