By Josiah Clark
Apparently Boone is not the only town around here that has had recent problems with graffiti and vandalism. The N.C. Senate tentatively approved House Bill 552, which would severely raise the penalties and potential jail time for those charged with graffiti vandalism.
The new bill would classify the charge as a felony if the accused meets certain requirements.
Under House Bill 552, graffiti vandalism would carry a mandatory $500 fine and 24 hours of community service per conviction. However, the charge could be labeled a Class H felony if the accused has already carried two prior graffiti convictions, or had committed five violations within 60 days.
In N.C., a Class H felony can result in 4-25 months in jail, in addition to other penalties.
In a video of the Senate debate uploaded to WRAL, Sen. Tom Apodaca (R-Henderson) said that House Bill 552 was originally requested by the Buncombe County District Attorney’s Office, where he called graffiti vandalism in Asheville a “major problem.”
Despite overwhelming support for House Bill 552, there is an effort to amend it before it is sent to the governor’s office after the final vote on June 3.
Sen. Josh Stein (D-Wake) sympathized with House Bill 552 and called graffiti vandalism a “clear violation of the law.” but he is also pushing to remove the “five violations trigger” which would mean a felony for “a kid acting out in one instance.”
“It is conceivable that somebody could do a single line of spray paint down a street, hitting five different properties, and be subject to a felony conviction based on the law,” Stein said. “I just don’t think it’s appropriate to hang a felony around someone’s neck for this.”
In Boone, House Bill 552 has the full support of Police Chief Dana Crawford, who said that the defacement of public and private property is not only unsightly and expensive, but sends the wrong message to anyone visiting Boone.
“You can’t call it ‘public expression’ when you’re essentially destroying someone else’s property. If you want to express yourself then don’t use someone else’s property to do it,” he said.
Chief Crawford also reported that graffiti vandalism has recently become a much bigger problem in Boone.
In the past few months, the Junaluska Park, Brookshire Park, Horn in the West, Carroll Companies buildings in the industrial park, the Town of Boone’s Winkler’s Creek water treatment plant and the ASU campus are among the areas that have been tagged.
The Boone Police Department has arrested multiple people still has open investigations in relation to these incidents.
Crawford said that he believes if the bill is adopted that it would help to discourage these incidents.
“I think it’s one of the only things that will really help and put an end to our problem, which is that we’re having so many public as well as private buildings being defaced. There has to be some form of deterrent to stop criminals from acting out. With today’s technology, there are a lot of different ways to express your talents that are perfectly legal, but to use someone else’s property or public property is just wrong,” said Chief Crawford.
The final Senate vote is scheduled for Wednesday, June 3.
If the vote is passed, House Bill 552 will become effective as of December 1, 2015.