(written by TLV)
While we would never advise anybody to go out and do something illegal, or worse immoral, the sentences being given out to London’s most prolific graffiti writers in the past few years have been pretty insane. With the 2012 Olympics coming up, the crackdown on illegal graffifi has been intense, with the few writers that have been caught being made examples of during sentenceing, in an attempt by the CPS to deter other writers from getting up.
As a response to what seems like disproportionate sentencing for the crime, we have written up a couple of tips to help keep London’s graff writers out of prison. Some of these tips might seem obvious to you, but you would be surprised how many graffiti writers have ended up being found guilty of conspiracy to commit criminal damage because they didn’t take these simple precautions.
REMEMBER: The best way to stay out of prison is not to commit the crime, these tips are not fool-proof and we would never encourage you to go out and do something illegal. If you do, some of these things could help stop you from getting caught, but fuck, don’t blame us if you do.
Before You Paint
Protecting Yourself Begins In Your Home
Getting good at graffiti requires you to sketch, sketch, sketch, but if your yard gets raided by the five-oh, those sketches will really work against you in court. Burn, shread or throw your sketches away before you spray a drop of paint. If you really want to keep your sketches, give them to a friend for safe keeping, don’t leave them out on the kitchen table. If you must keep sketches in your home, keep them in a very well hiddden location.
Buying The Paint
If you buy your spray paint (as opposed to racking shitty Plasticote or jacking toys) there are pros and cons to buying online or in a graff shop. If you visit your local graff shop, you get the paint instantly and without credit card transactions being made, but the shop could be under surveillance by law enforcement without the owners even knowing. Buying online is much safer,assuming you buy from a website you trust with your personal details. Only ever buy from a website with an SSH certificate and who promises to deliver the product in discreet packaging. Some websites will accept Paypal (less tracable) or pre-charged credit cards (untracable) which could help protect your idenetity. Proper online graff shops will have systems in place to protect their customers anonymity. Placing your order using your pub’s free Wifi or another public computer network adds another layer of anonymity when ordering from a less trustworthy source.
Don’t Run Your Mouth
As fucked up a thought as it might be, people have in the past tipped off police about graff writers identities and their planned missions. Everyone knows that snitches get stitches, but they can and will sing if you told them something you shouldn’t have. Even people you consider your friends might let something slip by accident or panic under the pressure of police interrogation, so do yourself a favour and keep your trap shut unless you trust the person with your freedom. Don’t let people save your tag as your name in their phones. Plenty of writers have been got this way. Don’t send texts and email using graff jargon, and don’t talk to police using graff jargon. It’s a dead giveaway of a writer.
Also, change you tag as often as your underwear! People will still know who you are from your style and who you paint with, but it will make a solid legal case harder to pin down.
Don’t Get Too Fucked Up
Most graff writers like a drink before a mission, some smoke weed or go for other variously classed goodies, but don’t get too smashed before a mission, because that’s a sure-fire way to up your chances of getting shifted. This might seem like the most obvious point in the world, but we know of plenty of writers who have gotten into trouble because they were getting up to mischief when they were far to twatted to get away with it. In a similar vein, only break one law at a time. A traffic violation or naughty behaviour in the street could be just enough to get you the police attention you done need when you have two 600ml cans of chrome in your waistband.
While You Are Painting
Wipe The Cans
Wipe the cans with a cloth before you paint. You want to remove fingerprints from the cans in case you have to ditch them and they are found by the police. Obviously, you need to wear latex gloves when you paint to make sure you don’t leave fresh prints on the can. It also means you won’t get paint on your fingers, which will incriminate you later on. Wearing a hat will help make you less identifiable to CCTV and stop your face being as easily recognised.
Don’t Dress Like A Graff Writer
While people from all walks of life (and fashion) paint graffiti, the police have an idea of what a graffiti writer looks like. Don’t look like that guy. Look like a wanker banker as opposed to a hip-hop head or a hairy hipster. Big rucksacks, hoods and trainers with emulsion all over them are not the right idea. Don’t wear any clothing that is too easily identifiable should it be seized and compared to CCTV images. Generic is better. Take your paint in a less obvious bag or even a plastic carrier bag, keep hoods down and try your best to look like a decent member of society. And don’t look so nervous when police cars roll past! A spare tshirt (which can be tied over your face) is less suspicious than a balaclava in your bag.
Get Your Story Straight
If you are painting with another person, make sure you have a story, should you be stopped by police for lurking around in a strange area. If one of you says you are going to a mates house and the other says you are going to a club, they are likely to question you more or search you. They will make you answer their questions away from one another hoping that you give different answers like that. Also, know where the legal walls closest to the area are, so should you be found with paint you can claim to be going/coming from that wall. But make sure your painting partner uses the same story!
Scope The Area
Make sure you know where you are. Know the area, the escape routes. You don’t want to paint a wall only to wall around the corner and realise it’s a police station, or run down an alley way to find a dead end. Going on a “heat run” to suss out the area for navigation and security in the daytime is usually a good idea. When you go to paint, if you must use a car, park as far away as possible. Number plates being read on CCTV could land you in heat.
Don’t Take A Sketch
New graffiti writers might feel that they need a sketch with them for the piece to come out any good, but it’s a liability. Either try to wing it without a sketch or practice with the sketch at a legal wall or chill-spot. Getting caught with a sketch matching the piece you are accused of painting is a straight par.
Watch The Paint
As you paint, cover your nose with your tshirt. This won’t protect your lungs from paint fumes, but could stop you from getting paint coloured particles on your nose hairs. If a police officer suspects you have been painting graffiti, he will shine his torch up your nose to see if you have been around spray paint recently. You would be surprised how quickly they will nick you if your nostril hairs are Belton Premium Telemagenta in colour. Chrome paint is particularly liable to mist up your nose, onto your clothes and generally bait you out. Turning your jacket inside-out could help to avoid getting the chrome dust on the most visible parts of your clothes. Watch where you are getting the paint. Don’t keep used caps loose in your pocket. Even if you dump the caps, the police will check inside your pocket for spots of paint that come off slightly wet caps. Keep em in a tissue or a sandwhich bag. Also, don’t leave caps or cans at the scene or in nearby bins. Get rid of them further away from the spot.
If You See Police
Leave. If you aren’t sure if they have seen you, they probably have. You don’t usually see them running at you, they go for the element of surprise. If you haven’t started painting yet, or have only just started, they will often pretend not to have seen you until after you have done more damage. If you think you have been spotted, get out of there. Your best option is usually to run like hell, but use your intuition as to whether pegging it down the street full speed would draw more attention. If you have to leave, don’t go back that night to finish the piece. Forget about it.
After you paint
Get The Fuck Out Of There
People hanging around near street-spots or even in yards after painting drives me mad. Once you have done your thing, get the fuck out of there. Don’t stop in McDonalds for a sausage and egg McMuffin or spend 10 mins posing for pants-down photos in front of your piece. Also, don’t paint the same spot/yard over and over. Otherwise smart people have been busted for hitting the same wall time after time until police set up motion sensitive cameras to catch them.
Posting Photos Online
Graffiti and the internet go hand in hand in today’s scene, but some people have incriminated themselves because they didn’t understand the technology they were using or how it could be traced back to them. We will be writing an article in coming weeks about how to use the Internet in a safe way, so keep em peeled. (Update: Here it is!)
If you are painting abroad, send your photos to a private Flickr, ftp or email account and format your memory card before coming home. It’s surprisingly common to have your photos checked out on the way out of a country.
If You Fucked Up And Got Nicked
If you get arrested, it isn’t necessarily game over. You still have a chance of getting away with it if you are lucky and play your cards right. By following this guide, you will have reduced the available evidence against you, and we will be writing an article about how to improve your chances after arrest in coming weeks. Your target at this stage is to give as little enough information away as possible in the hope that you will be blessed with an NFA. NFA stands for No Further Action, and basically means the police have decided they do not have enough evidence against you, and have let you go away as a free man. You would be surprised how often people get an NFA because they followed the simple rules laid out above. If you have legal experience (law student anyone?) and can help with an article going through the arrest and charge process, please hit us up at email@example.com. Of course, you will remain anonymous.
Some graff writers will say this article is bullshit and that you should just paint hard and run fast, and that opinion is fair enough, but I’m sure some of you want to get away with it.