Blue Line

Fighting graffiti with TAGS

July 14, 2016  By Gerry Murney

866 words – MR

Fighting graffiti with TAGS

by Gerry Murney

After some 23 years patrolling Halifax, I received a mid-morning call about an opportunity to join a new Halifax police unit known as the Community Response Team (CRT).


I had some idea they did something pronounced “sep-ted” (CPTED – Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design) but I didn’t really know anything about it. Now I am a certified Level 2 CPTED Technician.

I found out on my first day on the CRT that I’d spend 25 per cent of my time coordinating graffiti enforcement for the Halifax Regional Municipality.

“Graffiti?” I remember thinking. “What’s the big deal about kids with spray paint?” I was one of the majority of people who have no idea of the level of organization in the graffiti world and of the billions of dollars it costs annually on a global scale.

Unlike CPTED, I didn’t receive any formal training in graffiti management. I’ve learned a lot over the years, both on the job and at The Anti Graffiti Symposium (TAGS), an annual conference for people from different fields who share a vested interest in preventing and reducing graffiti vandalism.

To acclimatize delegates to the subject matter, TAGS has introduced a Graffiti 101 session to open the conference. This is a condensed version of my own ‘Intro to Graffiti’ – what you need to know for a basic understanding of graffiti:

• There are ten recognized types but one, known as ‘hip hop’, makes up 95 per cent of graffiti worldwide. This system is actually quite simple, which is probably why it flourishes.

• A participant begins by choosing a ‘moniker’ or name. Monikers come from several different sources and are usually something relevant to the participant. A tag, done in a single colour and one dimensional, is also created. If participants can do it in ‘one hit,’ meaning one stroke of the paint-can or marker, they will get extra ‘ups’ from the culture. Ups is a slang term for respect.

• Next comes ‘throw-ups,’ also known as ‘bubble letters’ or ‘fatties.’ They’re done in two colours, are two dimensional and can be traditional or non-traditional designs. Originally they have a black outline and a white scratchy fill; if the outline isn’t filled in, it’s termed a ‘hollow.’ Someone may return later to do a ‘crack fill,’ but it is more frequently left as a ‘hollow.’

• The final quest with a moniker is to create a ‘piece.’ This starts by using pencil and eraser to block out the letters of the moniker in a sketchbook before applying it to a surface. A design style is chosen to create a two or three dimensional re-creation of the moniker using three or more colours. Probably the most recognized design is called ‘Wild Style,’ which includes numerous arrows that have their own meaning within the culture.

There are endless types such as public, block, Chinese and flava styles. It’s not uncommon for participants to push forward with their own unique style. In a game of trying to get individually recognized, there might be some logic to this approach. Whatever a participant can do to capture the attention of others in the culture is considered positive.

• Hip hop graffiti has its own lingo. ‘Get Up,’ ‘Go All City’ and ‘Stay Up.’ This translates to: Get your moniker up on a wall, on a lamp post, anywhere you can, and spread it in all its forms within the largest possible area so other members of the hip hop graffiti culture will see it.

It’s the same routine to get into hip hop graffiti whether it’s Brisbane, Bangladesh or EcumSecum, Nova Scotia – but you’d likely find the approach to anti-graffiti enforcement different in each place.

Graffiti management strategies run the gamut from free spaces where graffiti is permitted and encouraged to by-laws banning the sale of spray paint to minors.

Halifax’s graffiti management plan (PDF at is grounded in four pillars.

  1. Graffiti removal: Using a blend of internal and external resources, manage graffiti to mitigate and control the incidence and provide an environment for police to make successful apprehensions.

  2. Education and civic responsibility: Create an education and public awareness campaign using multiple media streams to enhance the profile of Halifax’s anti-graffiti mandate and raise awareness of how communities can get involved in the solution. Seek alignment and support from community partners to mitigate and control assets in the public domain.

  3. Enforcement: Police will actively enforce applicable laws as they pertain to graffiti and continue internal and public education on tactics to manage the proliferation of graffiti.

  4. Reporting and communication: Create standardized reporting that measures key indicators of successful graffiti management.

It’s been my experience that managing graffiti is most effective when all stakeholders participate and apply a multi-faceted approach.

If you’re just getting started with an anti-graffiti strategy or are looking to enhance your existing approach, attend the TAGS conference in Coquitlam, B.C. October 24 and 25.

TAGS offers education, inclusion, networking and most of all, team membership. The information I’ve learned over the years at conferences has been invaluable and I’m honoured to be one of the presenters this year.

Visit for more information. I hope to see you there!

Print this page


Stories continue below