The City of Billings Code Enforcement Division is cracking down on vandals and is on a mission to erase graffiti from city dumpsters.
Code Enforcement was joined by members of the Rocky Mountain College and Montana State University-Billings ROTC program on Tuesday.
In small groups, each led by a code enforcement officer, they went around Billings and painted over graffiti-riddled dumpsters.
Code Enforcement Officer Todd Morgan paints over graffiti on a dumpster behind the former Pug Mahon's Irish Pub.
“We have an enormous list that Solid Waste provided for us and we’re hitting all of those plus any others we see,” explained Code Enforcement Officer Todd Morgan.
The City of Billings Solid Waste Division equips each garbage truck with a camera. By reviewing the footage, Solid Waste provided Code Enforcement with a list of locations where they could find dumpsters in need of a fresh layer of paint.
“We have a graffiti problem, we’re well aware of the problem, and we’re trying to fix it,” Morgan said.
The department is also going beyond removal.
“We need to get these people prosecuted. That’s our ultimate goal. I’m cataloging all the known graffiti that’s out there and we’re giving this information to the police department so they can take this to court once we find out who this person is and get somebody prosecuted,” Morgan said.
The vandals use what is known as a “tag,” which is basically an alias that can be traced back to a specific person.
A vandalism prosecution is uncommon in Billings, but because the Code Enforcement Division was able to grow by several positions through support from the public safety mill levy, they now have the staff to tackle projects like this and assist other city departments.
Solid Waste is currently short-staffed on its collections crew and needs to fill four positions, meaning the division doesn’t have time to commit to dumpster graffiti removal. That’s why Code Enforcement decided to jump in.
One of many stops on Tuesday, Morgan and volunteer Ben Livesay tackled the dumpsters in the alley alongside the former Pug Mahon's Irish Pub on 1st Avenue North downtown.
With a pan of brown paint and rollers, the two covered the large container’s exterior, leaving no trace of vandalism.
Volunteer Ben Livesay paints a dumpster covered in graffiti.
Although the task may seem minuscule, graffiti on a dumpster is often a sign of more to come.
“Graffiti vandals see it and they use it as an excuse to progress,” Morgan explained.
A recent example of this is one of Morgan’s cases on the 1100 block of Broadwater Avenue.
A dumpster was vandalized. It wasn’t long after graffiti appeared on the retaining wall.
Because the dumpsters belong to the Solid Waste Division and, therefore, are City property, it is the City’s responsibility to remove that graffiti. However, if a business or home is vandalized, it’s up to the owner to have the graffiti removed.
Code Enforcement is having conversations with businesses targeted by vandals. In particular, the business neighboring Pug Mahon's plans to install a mural to deter graffiti.
Vandalism is a misdemeanor crime that could come with hundreds of dollars in fines and jail time.
To learn more about graffiti removal, visit this link on the City of Billings website - https://www.billingsmt.gov/480/Graffiti