Free graffiti removal and more police to prevent Barcelona's deterioration

City Council does not rule out criminal charges against perpetrators and will allocate €1.8m to fight vandalism

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A worker of a graffiti cleaning brigade in Barcelona, this Monday at Plaza de Castilla.

BarcelonaBarcelona is reopening to the world after the pandemic and the City Council fears that the image it will project may be tainted by vandalism. According to deputy mayor for Prevention and Security, Albert Batlle, graffiti has long been "degrading" the streets and heritage of Barcelona, and the graffiti on the Basilica del Pi and several shops in recent months –such as the modernist shop window of Queviures Múrria– are proof of this. Residents, businessmen and all of the opposition have asked the City Council for stronger measures in the fight against this kind of vandalism and this Monday the City Council presented a package of measures that aims to promote "habits of urban cleanliness" and improve the coexistence between neighbours and visitors. The plan includes an increased budget for cleaning graffiti on buildings of high historical value, an urgent and free cleaning service for businesses attacked and an intensified police presence in hot spots. "We do not want the city's image to be harmed on walls, shutters, monuments and heritage," Batlle insisted.

The municipal plan, which is called Cuidem Barcelona, provides for an increased budget against graffiti on street furniture, especially historic elements. In total, €1.8m will be allocated to prevent and eliminate these traces. Among the new features is a new graffiti cleaning service that will be made available to shops whose walls have been graffitied. "In the same way as we set aside a million euros to paint over shutters, now we will clean for free, within 48 hours, the facades of stores that inform us on 010," explained Climate Emergency and Ecological Transition councillor Eloi Badia. In 2021, 115,092 interventions were made and 279,422 square metres of facades were cleaned, while this year 30,345 interventions have already been made up until March 31 and 71,114 square metres have been cleaned.

The Council will also intensify police presence with uniformed and plainclothes officers in areas where more graffiti appears throughout the summer. The cleaning brigades will increase in number: there will be 26 throughout the city, and they will work from Monday to Saturday to keep the streets in good condition. Six of these teams will act exclusively in the district of Ciutat Vella, to which the City Council wants to devote more resources, since it is where most graffiti can be found. In addition, Badia has reported that the city will have a total of 50 areas for legal graffiti, twenty more than now. "It is a matter of cleanliness, yes, but also of civility. Keeping public spaces clean is an effort, but not only the City Council's; we all have to be responsible and work to have a clean city," Batlle continued.

200 sanctions a year

The opposition demands City Council not turn a blind eye and strictly enforce local legislation to increase surveillance and prosecute these offences. The City Council recalls that the perpetrator of graffiti must be caught in the act in order to be fined, but Batlle has warned that the council has a will to "be proactive" in sanctioning these behaviours, and therefore does not rule out criminal charges against offenders. "Barcelona is becoming degraded in recent years and this continued situation is visible walking around the city. Until now there has been no dissuasive sanctioning and not cleaning it up has increased the feeling of disorder," Batlle said.

Increasing the number of complaints, said Batlle, is one of the goals of the summer reinforcement plan. Currently only about 150 or 200 have been processed and over 90% are administrative. According to Guardia Urbana inspector Jordi Oliveres, when the perpetrator is caught doing graffiti in an unauthorised location, material is temporarily seized and a photographic report is taken to estimate the amount of money that can be claimed from the perpetrator in order to repair the damage. The standard fine ranges from 300 to 500 euros.

However, the inspector has assured that perpetrators of graffiti such as those on Santa Maria del Mar or the Pi basilica could face criminal proceedings because "it is not a mere tarnishing; they cause serious damage". Reaching this consideration, however, is a complex process: in addition to having to catch the perpetrator red-handed, for such a case to work in court, not only does the City Council need to report it, but a judge must decide to accept it. If this happens, this instruction could lead to a fine or even a prison sentence depending on the damage caused.

Waste management and old furniture

Badia reported that 85% of the people of Barcelona believe that antisocial behaviour is one of the main problems in the city and, in view of this data, he stressed that the City Council has made a commitment to cleaning campaigns. As an example, he said that part of the new cleaning contract, which is expected to be completed in September, is already underway. The summer reinforcement plan, however, not only addresses the problem of graffiti, but wants to minimise the amount of furniture abandoned on the street and rubbish left next to containers.

"We have noticed the economic reactivation and that is why we have reinforced the collection circuits in commercial areas," explained Badia, who has explained that where garbage was collected every three days now it is done daily. In the Eixample, for example, paper is collected twice a day. To promote this collection, the City Council has sent out 44 informers. From this Monday until June 30, four of them will go into shops in the Raval. "If we observe repeated incidences, we are prepared to sanction," the councillor warned. In the case of abandoned bulky waste, the City Council will put stickers to show that waste was taken to the street on the wrong day and at the wrong time