WEST SIDE GRAFFITI TEAM
When Police Officer David Echevarria offered to remove graffiti from the security gate of Tips and Toes nail salon, courtesy of the city, the owners happily obliged. Had they not signed Echevarria's waiver to allow the city to remove the graffiti, the owners would have had to paint over the tagged security gate themselves within a month-or face a fine between $150 and $300. "It has a much nicer appearance," said Yelena Dorukhova, who manages the salon, at 200 W. 96th St. "It makes you feel like you're in a better environment." Council Member Gale Brewer led a two-day graffiti clean up on Sept. 3 and 4 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., starting at Tips and Toes, one of several removal efforts this year. That weekend, Brewer, Echevarria and a power-washing truck from the mayor's Community Assistance Unit hit 29 neighborhood businesses with defaced security gates. "The truth is in the pudding: basically, if you go through our precinct, start up in Harlem you'll see the difference," Echevarria said. "Our precinct has less graffiti." Painting over storefront security gates is a daunting task-and not just for individual business owners. The gates are large and working with small brushes is time consuming. Echevarria, the graffiti coordinator at the 24th Precinct, says these projects are too large for his team of graffiti cleaners, which is made up of about five to eight minors who committed crimes and get assigned by family court to Echevarria's program. Echevarria said that Brewer was instrumental in getting the power-washing truck quickly. "We can reach out to the mayor's unit," Echevarria said, "but because they're so short-handed, it helped that she could reach out and contact them personally." Each Saturday, Echevarria traverses the streets of the 24th Precinct, which runs from West 86th to 110th streets, visiting businesses and getting owners to sign the waivers. For these large graffiti clean-up efforts, Echevarria teamed up with Brewer to get the power-washing truck. Once the old paint is scraped off, these trucks can paint a security gate in a minute. "These trucks are so fast," Brewer said. "We could go around ourselves but it'd be really, really slow." Brewer said her office is getting the approval of business owners to do another weekend of graffiti removal, but the process is slow and often takes a few months. Brewer's council district was the first to use these trucks to combat graffiti in 2004, she said. A dozen trucks came at night when businesses were closed and the security gates were pulled down. But security gates are only a part of the Upper West Side's graffiti problem. U.S. Postal Service mailboxes are also targets and, because they are federal property, require special permission to paint over the tags. The post office provides paint, but not rollers, brushes or the manpower needed to clean up the eyesores. "It's hard to get that energy and organization." Brewer said. Bruce Stark, the owner of Beacon Paint and Hardware at 371 Amsterdam Ave. near West 78th Street, donated the paint supplies to volunteers interested in painting mailboxes, an effort that was separate from the mayor's Community Assistance Unit project. Brewer said that she keeps up with the graffiti situation in her district, thanks to a handful of observant constituents who call her office to report new tags. "We get a couple of people who pay attention," Brewer said. "To their credit, paying a lot of attention."
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