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Graffiti Hotline Rankles Local Business Owner 

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Changes to how the Richmond Police Department responds to graffiti reports have painted a frown on the face of at least one area business owner.

Larry Walters, whose Walters Construction Company Inc. is based in a restored brick row house on West Cary Street, says he's reported graffiti that has hit his building and surrounding property at least a half-dozen times since September.

"Since the last couple of months, trying to call into the complaint line has been a little, um, challenging," Walters says. "I don't want to sound like my beef is with the police department, but it seems like their response is not as coordinated as it used to be."

Before August 2005, Walters says, he was able to call the city's graffiti hotline, which generated a police report as well as an automatic report to the city's department of public works, with quick follow-up from an investigator and a repainting crew.

Now he says his calls generate only frustration.

"Sometimes they're reluctant to take a graffiti report," Walters says, complaining that calls to the hotline now require providing personal information that goes far beyond what was previously required.

A police spokeswoman confirmed that changes have been made to the procedure for reporting graffiti, and that those changes may have moved Walters' graffiti reports down the department's to-do list. With the institution of sector policing, she says, police response to graffiti reports has been decentralized. Complaints are no longer handled by a single detective, but rather within individual precincts.

"What we're finding from a lot of our community members is the sector policing is working a lot more effectively," Richmond Police spokeswoman Cynthia Price says. "The unfortunate thing with graffiti is that it's lower on our list of priorities."

But, Price says, "a citizen should be able to call in and get a response." She called Walters' experiences "a glitch" that will be corrected.

Good news for a frustrated Walters, who says his attempts to call his precinct station left him floating in phone-line limbo.

"They just tell you to call the graffiti hotline," he says. "But sometimes you call that and it's three or four days now before you get a response."

The Department of Public Works is also no longer integrated into the process, says Walters, who's been told to file his repaint orders separately. When he calls public works, he's discovered no clearly defined procedure for filing his request, and as with calling police, his call often is bounced between offices.

He points to the most recent bit of street art applied to his property that he first attempted to report Jan. 9. The scrawls are still there.

Britt Drewes, a spokeswoman for public works, says Walters' troubles are an anomaly. "The way we view it is it's blight and it's vandalism," Drewes says, suggesting either a direct call to public works (646-0999) or to the city's graffiti hotline (646-1406). "We see [repainting] as assisting public safety." S

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