Video Surveillance of Public Art Mural- Catching Graffiti Vandals

This original blog post of graffiti removal and catching graffiti vandals with video cameras was written in 2011… 9 years ago. Now, with hind-sight being 20/20, I’ve added a few UPDATE comments at the end of this blog post.

Newly Restored Mural Tagged

Newly Restored Mural Tagged

This mural, along with 10 others by some of the most prominent art masters, were given to the people of the  City of Los Angeles as part of the 1984 Olympic celebration to promote civic pride; one of the goals of all public art. Frank Romero, the artist of one of the most famous of these murals gives a dose of reality:

“All of the murals on that stretch of the 101 went for 13 years without being hit by the taggers,” he said. “After that, a few timid marks appeared. Then, suddenly this year (1998), they went wild. Tags appeared everywhere. It felt like part of me was dying.”

So now, murals, once a sanctuary honored by tagging vandals, are fair game. And it doesn’t take too long before the artwork, once clean, is completely obliterated again. But wouldn’t you think that technology could lend a hand in protecting… or at least catching vandals defacing public property?

The restoration – conservation of the Jim Morphesis Monument, a 1984 Olympic Freeway mural by Kent Twitchell, was the first of this series of murals to be the beginning of a renewed effort to save the murals and bring the public art back into view. Click here for more info: Save Free Murals. But four days after the mural was returned to its original glory, graffiti vandals unmercifully plastered the entire lower half with spray paint. See This, of course, infuriated MCLA, the sponsoring organization that organized the restoration work (, Caltrans, who has been an enthusiastic partner in re-revealing the artwork-murals along the freeways but also the law enforcement agencies were/are really “agitated.”

24 hours after we were notified that the mural was hit, we were back on the site to start the graffiti removal. That day, we had several interviews, right there on the freeway, with law enforcement and Caltrans. There seems to be more to graffiti than just making a public wall look bad: gang activity (drugs and guns) is related to it and the pride of the city is at stake in letting the anarchist mentality have expression by destruction of predominant public locations. It might surprise you that this is an felony offense.

Yesterday, Caltrans Vandalism Abatement co-ordinator Vincent Moreno brought me up to date on progress: The law enforcement agencies are very interested in catching these “bad guys” and have identified the people who are behind the monikers, initials or symbols that were painted. So, the law enforcement process is underway to track these guys down. Three agencies have committed to following through both in identifying the vandals and in surveillance of the mural: the CHP, The Sheriff’s Dept. and the LAPD. Caltrans, of course, wants to keep the freeways clean of graffiti but Vincent is also intent on getting the convicted vandals to pay for the graffiti clean up. “I want to get restitution from these guys and get the money back to MCLA for the mural maintenance program.”

One of the tools for catching the bad guys that is being installed this week is video surveillance on the Jim Morphesis Monument. This is an idea that seems to be on the minds of many who are following this blog as we have been working on the art conservation and restoration. But its not as easy as just buying any ol’ video surveillance camera. In fact, when Vincent told me about the video cameras I challenged him on the usefulness becaause so often you see a bank video or a market video and with all the good lighting, you still can’t see a face clear enough to ID someone… and this mural is located in a low light or no light situation, especially at night. Vincent said he has evaluated many different qualities and evaluated their performance. These are special cameras with infrared that have proven themselves. They are particularly good at picking up faces, license plates etc. Vincent will make daily visits to check up on the equipment to ensure its proper performance too. The video system will also have the capacity to immediately communicate to law enforcement to notify that taggers are present. The hope is for immediate response.

After Graffiti Removal

Graffiti removal was completed yesterday. I suspect that there will be other taggings. The  will and the way are in place and we’ll be there to keep the graffiti off. But,. taggers beware, there is going to be an official response and hell to pay. Its a pleasure to work with an organization like MCLA and Caltrans who have the tenacity and resolve.

Update 2019

Here are a few bullet points you may find interesting:

  1. Lots of things changed right from the beginning (after I posted the 2011 article). The artist run organization at MCLA wanted to maintain their own murals along the 101 freeway so my research and methodologies were handed over for a much lower quality clean up effort, and a less efficiently run response program when the murals got tagged. So, politics change… BUT… Caltrans, which has a required response time for tagging, it appears, has loosened their requirements for cleaning off tags knowing that there is ongoing community support. In other words, if Caltrans didn’t see the community interest and efforts, perhaps, they would just paint out the graffiti and the murals (again).
  2. This mural and the others (except Frank Romero’s cars… which I love and the kids playing) along the 101 freeway have been tagged many times over the years and the video surveillance I discussed with Vincent Moreno has never produced any actionable info. The video surveillance has also not dissuaded or discouraged any tagging that we can tell.
  3. The GodFather and Guardian Angel, Vincent Moreno passed away sadly. RIP and blessings to his family.

Restoration questions? Call Scott Haskins at 213 620 9125

See testimonials of FACL services:

Questions for the artist? Kent Twitchell 310 709 2037

“Like” us or be our “Friend” on Facebook at

video surveillance, protecting public art, kent twitchell, jim morphesis, caltrans, 1984 olympic freeway murals, scott haskins, FACL, mural conservation, art restoration, mural restoration, graffiti removal from murals, public art

About Scott M. Haskins

Scott Haskins has been in professional art conservation since 1975, specializing in the conservation/restoration of easel paintings, murals and art on paper. FACL, Inc. is known nationally for doing A+ work no matter the size or difficulty of the project. We are happy to do a quick cleaning on a family heirloom. Our client list and resume is also full of very satisfied clients of large, difficult/complicated projects at remote locations. Excellent services are also available as an Expert Witness/Legal Testimony in art related matters. Consultation on art related projects occur regularly including extensive insurance evaluations for insured or insurer. Services are offered worldwide. Scott M. Haskins is also author of the "Save Your Stuff" series, educational information, materials and supplies to help people protect and save their treasured family heirlooms and collectibles at home and office. He can be reached at 805 564 3438. Video and written testimonials at
This entry was posted in Murals and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Video Surveillance of Public Art Mural- Catching Graffiti Vandals

  1. Gisele Barnhill says:

    Every week I spend my half an hour to read this website’s posts along with a cup of coffee. Great stories and tips and entertaining!

  2. Nichele Jackson-Williams @ninathediva1 says:

    @Scott , I think that it would be wonderful if “The Freeway Kids”, made a glorious return! A new generation could then be inspired to truly live LARGER than life! Cant wait!!!

    • Scott M. Haskins says:

      Nichele, As you might guess, the cleaning and revealing of the painted out mural is also a political process but you will be happy to know that the Freeway Kids has a lot of support and, like, you there are people that feel passionately about that mural both in the community support groups and in the LA City government. Caltrans would love to see it back too! You can see more about the processes of cleaning the murals at Scott

  3. Nichele Jackson-Williams says:

    Growing up with a mother and sister that are artist, I was exposed to art at a young age. I am a child of the eighties and remember all of the glorious murals and the excitement of the 1984 Olympics! I can admit, that as a six year old child, I was at first a bit terrified of the huge murals! My parents would say, “It’s just paint, don’t be afraid!” These murals have some how become apart of my childhood memories! I am so glad that these masterpieces are being protected! As a child about twenty five years ago, my sister and I could not wait to pass by the freeway murals. We called these two enormous faces, “The Big Faces!” We would mimic the hands, and shout as we zoomed past. Over the years I have tried to share the freeway murals with my children. It saddens me that so many of them have been destroyed or are gone like, “The Freeway kids!” Great job at protecting what belongs to the artist, the people and the memories!

    • Scott M. Haskins says:

      Thanks for your comments Nichele. I agree with you, the murals a great part of LA. “I loved the Freeway Kids too and look forward to their resurfacing (through cleaning away of the overpaint) some day..”

  4. Pingback: Morphesis Re-Tagged The Day After Re-Cleaning... WAR!!!!! But we're kind of smiling because... | Fine Art Conservation Laboratories (FACL, Inc.)

  5. Caltrans came up with a varnish that could be washed off with water. The idea, of course, was that you could then wash off the graffiti with the varnish. They put some on this mural and, as the years passed, the varnish became harder and harder , turned a foggy brown color and attracted and held the dirt and dust in the air. The result after years was pretty cruddy. When we began the mural restoration this varnish that was supposed to be really easy to remove with water turned out to be a real pain to get off with solvents and the power washer. So, in answer to Tom’s suggestion, sometimes experimental stuff looks good at first but has drawbacks later on. We are using only materilas that are tried and true for aging and removability.

  6. Ooooh – I like that idea. Don’t know if it’s possible, but it sounds great!

  7. Bastards ! They should sprayed in the face with their own paint…isn’t there a protective clear coating that paint will not adhere to?

  8. Megan Sanderson says:

    I am so sorry!! That must be so heartbreaking and discouraging for you and Virginia. That mural is so beautiful it needs a security camera!! Go hi-tech cameras!!!

  9. Scott M. Haskins says:

    There is a difference between graffiti vandals and street artists, sometimes also called aerosol art. I like the street art for the most part but this is pure hate, disrespect, anarchist mentality. Here’s an article I wrote about a museum show on graffiti art in LA:“art-in-the-streets”-at-the-museum-of-contemporary-art-in-los-angeles-missed-a-big-opportunity-to-be-a-“guiding-light-institution-”/

  10. Melannie Davis Emerson says:

    AAWWww, that is absolutely heartbreaking!!! Im sorry. that must be very frustrating! 🙁

  11. Iris Bird says:

    You are right, Thomas, However, every country having valiable art, have the same problems, They have nothing, and disrespect those that do. Such a shame. I am a lover of great art, and don’t know much about it all, however, I wish these things did not take place any where in the world. thank you for your opinions.

  12. Thomas Edward Stubbs says:

    Taggers yes Denise Ormord Dooley, but with artists like Blue I can make an exception. Though he is not a traditional painter, he makes up for it ion statement and doing grand scale motion picture images moving along the walls, check him out. And he does not vandalize other peoples work as far as UI know.

  13. Denise Ormord Dooley says:

    I agree with Thomas! Those people have no respect for anything……so sad for our country that these people exist!

  14. Thomas Edward Stubbs says:

    Primitive instincts and territorial egos of lowly vandals.

  15. Kelly Bird Faught says:

    Why do people destroy the cities in which they live?? Ugh, so sorry

  16. Anna Christensen says:

    Oh! That is terrible!

  17. Katja Davidson says:

    No way they tagged it again! I’m speechless!

  18. WOW fantastic! Vincent has proven to be a great team player in this wonderful restoration project and with Vincent’s help we are going to be able to move forward and to have our murals back one by one! Thank you for the big smile on my face:) I truly appreciate the detailed information you are sending as it makes me feel closer to L.A.Hugs to all from Chile,
    What wonderful news! With gratitude,
    Executive Director
    Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles (MCLA)

  19. I can’t imagine any better news!! I’m going to forward this to Jim Morphesis’ wife. We were all talking about this on Christmas day at Molly Barnes’ house and Roxene kept suggesting video cameras. She won’t believe this.

  20. Pingback: Newly Restored Mural Tagged... but it was expected. | Fine Art Conservation Laboratories (FACL, Inc.)

Comments are closed.