Gangs & Graffiti

June 29th, 2022 by Nathan Hobbs

A California Canvas

By Chris Collier

The U.S. spends more than $12 billion on graffiti removal per year, according to Santa Clarita, Calif., officials. The city itself spends more than $600,000 a year on graffiti removal. Matt Castleman, owner/operator at C.B. Tint in Campbell, Calif., vouches for anti-graffiti film as an antidote for an issue he’s battled since 2006.

Preemptive Protection

“The good thing about graffiti film is that you can look at a place and know if you have a customer before you walk in the door,” Castleman says. “You see damaged glass, you can use that in your sales presentation: ‘Look at your neighbor—this is what is going on here. It’s only a matter of time.’”

Shawn Schauwecker, owner of Extreme Window Tinting in Corona, Calif., uses a similar strategy by pairing products into a package deal.

“If I go in and they want a price for solar film on a commercial storefront, I always ask if they’ve thought about anti-graffiti film,” he adds. “‘Three doors down, your neighbors got hit, and they scratched the whole glass. This is preventative. If you put it on your glass, and it gets scratched, we can peel the film off, and your window’s not damaged.’”

Anti-graffiti films act as a sacrificial barrier to control vandalism and provide a cost-efficient alternative to replacing battered glazing. Typical applications include retail storefronts, product displays, schools, transit systems, elevators and escalators, vending machines, restroom mirrors and museums.

“Many companies will build a new storefront and look around to see how much graffiti is on other storefronts around them,” Schauwecker says. “If it’s a single or dual-pane window, a dualpane window will be costly to replace. It’s like car insurance; you don’t need it until it happens.”

Installation, which protects against scratching, spray paint and acid etching and assists in retaining broken glass fragments, allows business owners to circumnavigate a potentially costly glass and glazing expenditure.

“It’s all gang-related,” says Gil Guerra, owner of California’s Team GK Glass Tinting. “The worst thing is when you have seven windows on your storefront—If I walk by and write my name, you scratch my name out and write your name, and then another guy scratches both out and writes his. Once they start, they don’t stop. Anti-graffiti film works.”

Cause and Effect

“I think most of it is people carving their initials or gang signs into the glass,” says Schauwecker, who connects 30% of total sales to anti-graffiti work. “I tell customers if it gets vandalized, don’t let it continue on the same glass. Someone will write something on the glass, and if you don’t replace the film right away, someone else will cross it out and put their name.”

Anti-graffiti film comprises 40% of C.B. Tint’s sales. Castleman applies and reapplies the film in bathrooms, escalators and elevators in malls throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Monuments aren’t safe either. Vandals defaced the 142-name San Jose Vietnam War Memorial in Spring 2019.

“With tint, ‘it’s wham-bam, see you in 20 years if you need me—please give me a referral,’” Castleman explains. “With anti-graffiti, you’re getting three to four years max before it needs to be replaced; and that’s if they don’t tag it. You’re creating a cash-flow customer by installing this film. They’re going to need you again.”

California Penal Code 594 PC specifies the crime of vandalism as maliciously damaging, destroying or defacing another person’s property. Vandalism is a misdemeanor if the damage is less than $400.00. But the charge can be a felony if the amount is $400.00 or greater.

“I do a lot of McDonald’s,” says Schauwecker, who also applies anti-graffiti film at several KFCs and Starbucks. “Some of those get hit a lot. The managers will call me and say, ‘We need this replaced right away.’ The worst thing is walking up to a restaurant, the windows are vandalized and customers are [questioning] what area they’re in.”

A Whole Different Ballgame

“I think it’s intimidating for the same reason security film is intimidating— it’s a thicker film,” Castleman adds. “Anyone who deals primarily with cars is less willing to take on thicker films because the installation is more difficult than a regular film. Anti-graffiti film is heavy, rigid and has a very sticky adhesive; fingerprints will show up. There’s a lot that can go wrong.”

Suppliers sell the product in various densities. Graffiti Shield’s Glass Shield is a four- or six-mil thick film.

“There is more risk for contamination because you’re outside and have wind blowing that can turn your film into a flag,” Castleman says. “There’s a lot you can’t control. But there are ways to avoid contamination. Contamination primarily comes from the top. You’re spraying the top, gravity rolls down and anything on that top, nasty gasket rolls down. We are trained not to spray the top four inches of the glass. We will spray the film but not the glass.”

In an industry where slow season reigns supreme during the colder months, Schauwecker says that anti-graffiti film is a year-round solution built to sustain businesses—rain or shine.

“I used to use a four mil anti-graffiti film—it’s a lot easier to install than the six mil,” he explains. “I stopped using that years ago. I’ll strip and re-do windows that I never did initially, and it’s four mil. It’s easier for you, but there is a bigger chance of vandals scratching through the glass.”

Chris Collier is the assistant editor for Window Film magazine. Connect with him on LinkedIn and Facebook.

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