One of the many visible challenges that has greatly impacted Vancouver in recent years, and more specifically Chinatown and Gastown, is a drastic increase in graffiti. Not only is it unsightly and can often include inappropriate content, but residents and businesses in these neighbourhoods have also been impacted as a result of people’s fears to visit these areas, resulting in a loss of business in an already challenging economic climate. When businesses are forced to close their doors, property owners are often unable to lease out vacant space due to the appearance and public safety concerns. It’s a slippery slope of crime and economic crisis if the graffiti is not addressed in a timely fashion.
What’s worse, over the last three years, Chinatown has been the victim of increased anti-Asian graffiti and vandalism that causes fear and frustration to neighbourhood residents, community and business members as well as visitors.
This is why the Vancouver Police Foundation (VPF) was eager to fund a VPD-led initiative that enabled the Chinese Community Policing Centre (CCPC) to become a community leader in graffiti removal. Funding was used to purchase graffiti clean-up kits, graffiti clean-up wipes, personal protective equipment, and other core supplies needed for this initiative. A new graffiti-removal team was established that consists primarily of volunteers who deploy 1-2 times each week to erase vandalism by cleaning, scrubbing, and painting over walls, windows, and other pieces of property that have been damaged by vandals.
“By starting the CCPC Graffiti Removal Program, we are engaging our existing and new volunteers to participate in a meaningful activity while serving and strengthening the community,” explains CCCP Neighbourhood Police Officer, Constable Byron Yee. “Through the lens of the Broken Window Theory, we hope that the removal of graffiti will be an effective way to make people feel safe and welcome again, resulting in increased foot traffic and business opportunities, thereby reducing the crime rate.”
Cst. Yee has been with the VPD for more than 20 years and for the past eight years has been dedicated to working with individuals and businesses in Chinatown to address area-specific concerns and frustrations. The rise in anti-Asian vandalism that Cst. Yee has witnessed and responded to in recent years inspires him to do more to help. Through his work, and the work of the staff and volunteers at the CCPC, they also provide educational outreach and crime prevention programs in Chinatown to raise awareness for personal safety and reduce the incidences of crime. The CCPC also offers translation and interpretation services to help make policing more accessible to, and better understood by, the Chinese speaking community.
Prior to this new initiative, it was largely up to businesses in Chinatown to find the time and money to remove graffiti themselves when their property was tagged. And they are subject to fines by the City of Vancouver if they don’t. As you can imagine, the widespread frequency of such vandalism makes it almost impossible for businesses to keep up. This new initiative helps relieve the burden for Chinatown merchants.
“We hope to empower businesses by helping them reclaim their space by removing the graffiti that has intruded in their businesses and sense of security,” Cst. Yee further explains. “If we can help a business continue to run, foot traffic in the area will be decent, which helps decrease crime. Residents, visitors, and tourists will likely feel safer and perhaps new businesses will join the community.”
So far, the feedback about the CCPC Graffiti Removal Team from local merchants has been positive, stating that it provides a valuable presence of volunteers in uniform as well as a positive impact on the cleanliness of the community.
“We are encouraged by the businesses’ appreciation and recognition of our volunteers’ efforts, and we will continue to support as best as we can.”
Not too far down the road is the Hastings Sunrise Community Policing Centre (HSCPC) who launched their graffiti removal team several years ago with much success. Just as with the new program at the CCPC, they’ve also been supporting hard-working small business owners and employers in their neighbourhood who would otherwise have to pay to have the graffiti removed.
“If there is no one there to do something about a small tag, that small tag is going to get bigger and bigger,” says Sampson Hsieh, a Graffiti Removal Team leader at HSCPC who is also a VPD civilian professional. “That’s why it’s really important that we have these graffiti teams out there to show that someone does care, and is doing something to make the community better.”
Cst. Yee knows all too well the importance of increasing meaningful involvement with a vulnerable community such as Chinatown. By assisting with the removal of graffiti, he and his team are proud to be strengthening the sense of community while assisting with the burden of graffiti and vandalism for business owners and residents. He also already has plans to expand the graffiti removal program to the Gastown community later this year.
If you would like to support VPD graffiti removal and community clean-up initiatives, or any other VPD officer-led community program, please donate online or call us at 604.717.3700. Gifts of all sizes can make a difference.
The Vancouver Police Foundation supports programs and initiatives that fall under one of four pillars: Youth Programs, Mental Health & Addictions, Community Outreach & Engagement, and Technology & Special Equipment. You can help build a safer Vancouver by donating to the Vancouver Police Foundation.