War on graffiti goes on, says artists’ nemesis

Police officer’s work tracking down offenders has resulted in at least 300 convictions Matthew Weaver

Detective Constable Colin Saysell is the man graffiti artists love to hate. His relentless and increasingly hi- tech pursuit of for almost 30 years has earned him the reputation as the graffiti bogeyman.His name is frequently spray-painted on walls as a taunt to the authorities. Abusive comments about him have even been spotted on goods wagons in Germany. Saysell has helped convict at least 300 graffiti offenders in his time, first in Bristol and more recently in London for British Transport police. As the only detective registered as an expert witness on graffiti, Saysell regularly helps police forces across the UK and Europe.Saysell says the police are winning the war on graffiti. But his tactics and hardline approach are being questioned. He is seen by many as out of step with a society that celebrates rather than prosecutes graffiti artists. Even some officials tout the idea of decriminalisation.Saysell is keen to push on with his crusade. “Am I a zealot? When I go to work I try to do the best I can. I’m paid to look after the public from the perspective of graffiti crime. That’s my job,” he said. “I’m paid to enforce the law.” Even if he had a tipoff that Banksy was spraying a wall he says he would try to arrest him if a complaint were made by a property owner.Saysell was confronted by some of his harshest critics, including several convicted artists, during a graffiti conference on the South Bank in London earlier this month.His speech, which included an endorsement of prison terms for graffiti artists and a claim that spraying graffiti was a gateway to more serious crimes, was heckled by some. But he was paid a backhanded compliment by Ben Eine, whose street art was chosen by David Cameron as a gift to Barack Obama.”I first heard of him [Saysell] when friends of mine, that weren’t wise enough to stop painting trains and vandalising stuff when I did, began dropping like flies. The evil rat-catcher was Mr Saysell. He’s a bit like the graffiti bogeyman. If he gets you on his list then he gets you. He used technology to catch everybody. He used emails, numberplate recognition, and with that kind of evidence it’s hard to get off.”In a video message to the conference Eine made a peace offering to Saysell, inviting him to “have a chat”.Saysell won’t be taking up the offer. “I’m not here to enter a semantic debate with a celebrity,” he said. And he doesn’t like the term rat-catcher.her. “ThatThat implies that graffiti vandals, excuse me, graffiti grafwould writers, are rats. I would never call someone a rat.”He prefers a less derogatoryerogrodent analogy. . “Of course it’s a cat and nd mouse game,” he said, d, and talked about the “cunning” “cunts. of his opponents.But he said Eine’s recent work did not concern n him. “If he wants to produceuce lovely canvases and give them to leaders of countries like the US, , it’s nothing to do with h me. Graffiti is only ever ver graffiti when it’s done e illegally.”Saysell said he was saa disciple of the “brokenen windows theory”, the e idea that tackling smallall acts of vandalism promotes oer a sense of order which prevents furtherer crime. “I know there are counter arguments, but what those sociologists sts [George] Kelling and [James] Wilson [who coined the term] did was hit the nail on the head. It [graffiti] leads to other formers of urbanrban decay and it creates a climate clie of fear.”The zero-tolerance approach has had an impact, according to Saysell. Saymple He cited the example of a gang of five who were given combined prison sentences of 11 years last year. “Those kind of sentences have a deterrent effect … Some writers just quit. Others radically changed the way they operated – they decided to go abroad to other countries that have different attitudes to graffiti.”Saysell pointed to a sharp drop in graffiti offences on the rail network, from 5,451 in 2007 to 1,546 in 2013. “It’s a battle that we are winning,” he said. Academics aren’t so sure. Prof Lorraine Gamman, director of the University of the Arts London’s Design Against Crime Research Centre, said cracking down on graffiti stifled creativity and denied young people an important form of expression.Adam Cooper, head of creative industries for the London mayor, Boris Johnson, even questioned whether graffiti should be regarded as vandalism, citing the decriminalisation of graffiti by the mayor of Bogotá, the Colombian capital.He said the graffiti in the South Bank undercroft used by skateboarders added “social communal value” to the space. “There are no plans to change the law here,” Cooper hastened to add, but he said the mayor’s office could provide more spaces for graffiti.Eine said Saysell’s tactics led to bad graffiti. “By being so hardcore against it all you get left is quick shit that is ugly. It’s interesting that somebody like Colin Saysell does care so passionately about something that no one else gives a shit about.”Saysell disagrees. “I’m not the only one who cares. Network Rail are deluged on a daily basis with complaints. Passengers just don’t want to see graffiti on trains. I would argue that are bullies. They are imposing their will, their views on everyone else.”

Articolo pubblicato il 19 dicembre 2014 su The Guardian

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