The teens who spent a recent Saturday afternoon painting over graffiti at an empty Palm Harbor office building probably never thought that when sheriff's deputies arrested them, they'd wind up doing this.
The teens were given the opportunity to get their lives headed in the right direction by participating in the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office Graffiti Response Program.
"This is kind of like a second chance for them," said Pinellas County Sheriff's Deputy Ed Crandall, who was supervising eight kids during the recent cleanup.
The program allows teens who are first-time offenders of non-violent crimes to work a certain amount of community service hours by doing things like painting over graffiti and cleaning up trash. Once a teen successfully completes the program, charges against the teen are not filed through the court system.
Deputy Crandall says the program benefits the teens and the community. Teens have a chance to keep the crime off the record and the taxpayers save money because the crime is not running its course through the court system.
Crandall, who has served as a mentor for numerous kids who've been through the program, said it has turned out to be a success. When it started in 2009 there was plenty of graffiti.
"It was very overwhelming. There were a lot of tagged areas, more than we could handle," Crandall said. "Over the years we were able to catch up on it. Now, we have a pretty good handle on it. We do have to work diligently to try to find areas to keep the kids busy, which is a good thing."
Kids and taxpayers are not the only ones who benefit from the program. Deputies say they get something out of it, too.
"We get to be proactive and as law enforcement, our job is generally reactive," Crandall said.
Deputy Charles Matthews also finds the program rewarding.
"Being a role model for these children, seeing that if they work hard, they get an education, they stay out of trouble they can basically do what they want to do with their lives. That's what we like best about this."
Is there graffiti in your neighborhood? Has someone painted graffiti on property you own?
Here's what you can do in Dunedin:
- Notify the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office by calling 727-582-6200.
- If the graffiti is on your personal property, you will need to supply the paint to have the kids cover the graffiti.
- If the graffiti is on public property, the Sheriff's Office supplies the paint used to cover the graffiti.
- The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office Graffiti Response Program paints over graffiti in all areas of Pinellas County.