When school gets out, kids get busy. At least, that's what workers with the City of El Paso's anti-graffiti program say.
"They say they are murals, but sometimes there are hidden messages," said Frank Pacheco.
Pacheco helps manage the program. It allows for people to call the city and complain about areas that have been "tagged." Homes, businesses, even vehicles can get paint removed for free. The program is paid for through city taxes.
This week, while watching the crew work, it was obvious it's drawing attention. The program has been around for quite some time, but Pacheco says they still get positive feedback regularly.
"Law enforcement can't handle this alone, it's too big of an issue," said Pacheco.
On one particular afternoon, crews were in central El Paso. A woman's pinata business was covered in black and white spray paint.d
"It looks sad, especially when it's for the kids," she told ABC-7.
Pacheco said the program has allowed the city to avoid the graffiti pitfalls that have overtaken larger metropolitan areas like Los Angeles and Detroit. He added that it doesn't stop popping up. Without his five truck crew, each with two workers, he said it would take a matter of weeks for the city to be covered. That's why it's so important that they work quickly.
This year, the program won a statewide award for innovation from the Texas Chapter of the American Public Works Association. Next year, it's shooting for a national award. The award came thanks to the city's tracking of statistics tied to graffiti, and its online/phone help lines for those looking to report problems. Workers also photograph "tags" they see regularly to help provide information to the city's gang task force.
"We try to educate the residents and the business owners of this campaign and the toll it takes on them," said Pacheco.
According to him, if homes and businesses are let go, the city becomes less safe. Homeowners are less likely to leave their home and property values plummet. So far, that hasn't happened, and if Pacheco has his way, his team won't allow it.
If you'd like to report a graffiti incident you can contact the anti-graffiti program at (915) 621-6789. An online report form is also available on the City of El Paso's website.