Detective Constable Colin Saysell, the top anti-graffiti officer in the UK has Spoken at a conference on graffiti at London’s Southbank centre, and is advocating for harsher penalties to be levied against graffiti writers and street artists who chose to create works in unauthorised locations.
Detective Constable Colin Saysell has been in pursuit of ‘would-be Banksy’s’ for almost 30 years, which has earned him the reputation as the graffiti bogeyman. Saysell has helped convict at least 300 graffiti offenders in his time, first in Bristol and more recently in London for British Transport police. He is the only detective registered as an expert witness on graffiti, Saysell regularly helps police forces across the UK and Europe.
Saysell is seen by many as out of step with a society due to a hardline approach against street artist’s. But UK leading anti graffiti officer is unmoved by protest. “Am I a zealot? When I go to work I try to do the best I can. I’m paid to look after the public from the perspective of graffiti crime. That’s my job,” he said. “I’m paid to enforce the law.” If a property owner spotted Banksy creating a new work of art, Saysell would happily swoop.
The officer’s speech, endorsed prison terms for graffiti artists and claimed that the spraying of graffiti would lead on to more serious crimes, and at times Saysell was heckled. Ben Eine, whose street art was chosen by David Cameron as a diplomatic gift to Barack Obama, gave his opinion to the Guardian about the work of the anti-graffiti officer.
“I first heard of him [Saysell] when friends of mine, that weren’t wise enough to stop painting trains and vandalising stuff when I did, began dropping like flies. The evil rat-catcher was Mr Saysell. He’s a bit like the graffiti bogeyman. If he gets you on his list then he gets you. He used technology to catch everybody. He used emails, numberplate recognition, and with that kind of evidence it’s hard to get off.”
Eine made a peace offering to Saysell in the form of a video link inviting him to “have a chat”. But Saysell was having non of it. “I’m not here to enter a semantic debate with a celebrity,” the officer stated; and took a dislike to the imposed nickname of rat-catcher. “That implies that graffiti vandals, excuse me, graffiti writers, are rats. I would never call someone a rat. Of course it’s a cat and mouse game,” he added: “If he wants to produce lovely canvases and give them to leaders of countries like the US, it’s nothing to do with me. Graffiti is only ever graffiti when it’s done illegally.”
Saysell advocates a zero-tolerance approach stating that the focus on small acts of vandalism prevented escalation to more extreme crimes. He also cited the example of a gang of five graffiti writers who were given combined prison sentences of 11 years last year. “Those kind of sentences have a deterrent effect … Some writers just quit. Others radically changed the way they operated – they decided to go abroad to other countries that have different attitudes to graffiti.”
According to the graffiti expert offences on the rail network, from 5,451 in 2007 to 1,546 in 2013. “It’s a battle that we are winning,” he added. But Eine said Saysell’s tactics actually leads to bad graffiti. “By being so hardcore against it all you get left is quick shit that is ugly. It’s interesting that somebody like Colin Saysell does care so passionately about something that no one else gives a shit about.”
The officer promtly retorted. “I’m not the only one who cares. Network Rail are deluged on a daily basis with complaints. Passengers just don’t want to see graffiti on trains. I would argue that graffiti writers are bullies. They are imposing their will, their views on everyone else.”