Acclaimed graffiti expert Colin Saysell on: | Fleetshield
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Acclaimed graffiti expert Colin Saysell on:

Former detective Colin Saysell is the UK’s only court-approved graffiti expert and, since 2017, the director of Zero Graffiti. During his 29-year police career, he was involved in all aspects of investigating and tackling graffiti in Bristol and London. Like no one else, Colin knows how to track down graffiti vandals and bring them to justice. We spoke to him about tackling graffiti on the Dutch railways.

How did you become a graffiti detective?

“It evolved over the years. As a detective, I started to identify graffiti vandals more and more easily based on their tags. In 2003, I joined a special taskforce whose aim was to stop graffiti crime nationwide. It was one of the UK government’s top priorities as the country – and London in particular – was plagued by graffiti vandals. Not only from within the UK, but also from outside the country’s borders. At the time, it was costing the government around £1 billion a year in clean-up and repairs. Thanks to the work of the taskforce, between 2003 and 2013, we went from tens of thousands of graffiti offences a year on the rail network, to less than 1,600.”

What is the impact of graffiti on the rail sector in your view?

“What people don’t realise, is that trains regularly have to be taken out of service to remove graffiti. This is very expensive. It can also damage the reputation of rail companies if trains are delayed or cancelled as a result. Graffiti damage also affects the morale of railway staff. Some railway staff even take it personally. This is another reason why it is important to stop graffiti crime.”

What do you hope to achieve with your work?

“It used to be about solving crimes and tracking down perpetrators. Now the emphasis is more on protecting people, property and rail materials. My focus is on deterrence. If you get that right, you can save a lot of money. You can also prevent graffiti sprayers from being injured or even killed through negligence.”

How much difference can you make to rail companies?

“These days, I work on the basis of a three-pronged approach: Education, enforcement and crime prevention through tailored environmental design, short for CPTED. CPTED is a global approach aimed at reducing crime, public nuisance, undesirable behaviour and a general feeling of insecurity. Designing a station environment based on CPTED principles does make a lot of difference to rail companies. The approach is wide-ranging in scope. Within this, I mainly focus on improving access control and other defensive measures. I can’t reveal the exact tactics here for obvious reasons. I will sit down with clients for that.”

Does protective film help tackle the graffiti problem?

“I know that many public transport companies and rail manufacturers are enthusiastic about protecting rail materials with film. Mainly because it allows graffiti to be removed quickly, without damage and without graffiti ghosting. It also allows the use of more environmentally friendly cleaning agents. When graffiti sprayers mix acids with their paint, the film can be damaged, but the protective coating remains intact. This is often not the case with unprotected bodywork and windows, where the acids burn right through the surface. Graffiti damage is then difficult to repair.”

What do graffiti vandals cause the most problems with?

“One of the most problematic types of graffiti vandalism is when graffiti vandals spray paint on the windows of the driver’s cab of a train, tram or metro. When this happens, the rolling stock has to be taken out of service for cleaning and repair. It is no longer safe to drive. If the cab window is fitted with protective film, the problem is easily remedied. Film also protects the windows of rolling stock from scratches and etching. In the worst-case scenario, only the film needs to be replaced. As a result, downtime of rolling stock is kept to a minimum and passengers can increasingly rely on their trains to run on time.”

Are there other ways to prevent graffiti?

“Absolutely. One of the most obvious is to protect the railway infrastructure. The surfaces there are a great platform for graffiti vandals because they are so conspicuous. Which is why they are often defaced on a daily basis. Protecting these surfaces with film is also an option. In the meantime, this has been proven to reduce and sometimes stop graffiti vandalism. There are other ways to deter graffiti vandals. I can’t reveal them here. If any rail companies are interested in this, by all means, have them contact me via Fleetshield.”

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