San Mateo residents cracking down on graffiti with help of new app 

The city of San Mateo recently unveiled a mobile app designed to make it easier for community members to report graffiti vandalism and for city contractors to respond to such cases. The app, called mySanMateo, is available for Apple and Android devices, and it allows users to attach photos and precise GPS coordinates to their service requests.

Assistant City Manager Matt Bronson said citizens reporting graffiti can expect each service request to be resolved within two business days.

When The San Francisco Examiner anonymously tested the system, the city response was even faster, as a graffiti incident reported one recent weekend was resolved the next business day. An email generated by the system confirmed that the cleanup work had been done that morning, and included “before” and “after” photos of the site.

Bronson said since the app’s soft rollout in August, the city has been able to process a larger volume of graffiti abatement requests, and do so faster and cheaper.

During the previous fiscal year, which ended June 30, the city spent $150,000 to address 1,300 graffiti removal work orders, with most being resolved within seven business days, he said.

In contrast, he noted that from Aug. 1 through Dec. 31, the city completed 2,000 work orders, most within two business days. In addition, the overall cleanup cost dropped to a rate of $96,000 per year, or $8,000 per month, he said.

Bronson said the app developer, App-Order, is a sister company of the city’s new graffiti abatement contractor, Graffiti Protective Coatings. Therefore, the $8,000 monthly bill covers not only the app and its associated Web reporting and tracking technology, but also the physical work of removing graffiti.

App-Order spokesman Barry Steinhart said the fast turnaround time on service requests is made possible by the fact that incidents submitted via the mobile app go directly to Graffiti Protective Coatings without first being routed through city staff.

Police Chief Susan Manheimer said graffiti tagging can often be a precursor to other types of criminal activity, and can therefore impact a neighborhood’s crime level and general quality of life. Gang-related graffiti is given top priority by police, said Manheimer, adding that when a tag is flagged as being gang-related, a copy of the report is routed to the Police Department’s gang task force.

Bronson said graffiti photos posted via the app are added to a searchable database. He said the graffiti “tags” are deciphered and entered as text data attached to each photo, which Bronson called an important tool for police in building cases and prosecuting graffiti vandals.

The mySanMateo app can be downloaded from Google Play and the Apple App Store. Bronson said users who don’t have Android or iOS devices will be able to submit reports using a Web interface, which will appear soon on the city’s website, cityofsanmateo.org.

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