With anti-graffiti programs seldom, Waterbury-Lasalle on its own

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Graffiti is leaving its ugly mark on this east Bronx neighborhood - from the top of apartment buildings, on mail boxes and small businesses like Zeppieri’s Bakery.

And Andrew Chirico is just about had it.

“This just annoys everybody in the neighborhood,” said Chirico, a longtime member of the Waterbury-Lasalle Civic Association that’s made graffiti removal a top priority.

Another member, Mary Jane Musano, agreed.

“Graffiti is such a physical crime it turns off a lot of people,” said Musano, who patrols the neighborhood, photographing graffiti tags as evidence of vandalism.

Both have seen firsthand the destruction caused by tagging. They’ve seen recent postings mostly along a major stretch of Crosby Avenue, where businesses like Pelham Delite and a Sprint store have been hit. Since May, Chirico and several members have recorded close to two dozen complaints they’ve made through the city’s 311 system, only for them to have gone unanswered.

With no one listening, Chirico is at his wits end.

“The criminals get away with it,” said Chirico.

They once relied exclusively on state Senator Jeff Klein’s graffiti removal program, hailed by many as a successful deterrent to vandalism.

The program cleaned-up nearly 300 sites of graffiti vandalism over the past two years.

Chirico bragged that Klein’s people “would handle any list, long or short, within a week.”

As the Bronx Times reported, cutbacks have suspended the program for now.

“Klein knows how much we want his program to come back,” said Musano.

An effort to restore funding is underway. Klein said he is looking at “different revenue sources” to restart the program.

“I expect the program to come back within the coming months,” he said.

For now, Chirico is waiting on the city’s Graffiti Free NYC Program to handle the problem.

The initiative is handled through the Department of Sanitation. It asks residents to report graffiti hot spots so they can be cleaned up. The city also provides free cleanup materials when asked by a legitimate organization.

Calls to the Department of Sanitation for a response were not returned.

Chirico is also looking to curb graffiti through help from the justice system. He’s calling on lawmakers to impose stiffer punishments to career vandals who often wind up with light sentences, such as community service.

But Chirico said the punishment often doesn’t fit the crime, adding that “judges lean too much to sympathy.”

Musano is equally disturbed by community service sentences, since it has “nothing to do with cleaning graffiti.”

“It involves cleaning a corner,” she said, “which is pointless.”

Reach reporter David Cruz at 718-742-3383.

David Cruz can be reach via e-mail at DCruz@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 742-3383

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CNG: Community Newspaper Group