In Vandal Squad: Inside the New York City Transit Police Department, 1984–2004 , former transit cop Joseph Rivera tells of his career in NYC’s Vandal Squad in the 80s-90s when he played a cat-and-mouse game with the graffiti crews who were writing on/vandalizing the NYC’s subway trains and buildings. The Vandal Squad was founded in 1980 to stop subway carriage windows being broken and seats being ripped out of trains, then in 1984, their attention turned towards graffiti with the Clean Car Program. The police used a subpoenas, arrest warrants and computer databases to try to identify and catch the graffiti ‘ghosts’, but were forced to come up with ever more creative ways to track their prey. Ironically, the logo on the Vandal Squad’s softball team shirts was designed by a well-known tagger).
There’s now an ongoing debate about whether a clean NYC is a soulless NYC. What’s more, since the days of a bankrupt city, street art has moved from the sidewalk and into the art gallery.
There’s loads here to make an documentary that engages a young audience in contemporary history and a debate about art. If Brooklyn Museum and Tate Modern can stage graffiti exhibitions, and The Barbican can thrill a packed house of teenagers with a Hip Hop version of The Pied Piper set in a graffitied set, there’s no reason for TV to be scared of the subject.