City Hall

Tempe Police Declare War on 'Penis Man'

New "Penis Man" graffiti has been rising in Tempe.
New "Penis Man" graffiti has been rising in Tempe. Carolyn Stern
(UPDATE January 25: Police arrest Phoenix resident Dustin Shomer on suspicion of "Penis Man" taggings.)

The "Penis Man" graffiti artist is getting cocky: In just the last two weeks, the name has been scrawled across porta-potties at Tempe Town Lake, Arizona State University dormitories, businesses, public equipment — even on the historic Hayden Flour Mill and the "A" landmark on Hayden Butte.

Last weekend, the tagger hit the front door of Tempe's municipal building.

Now, cops have declared war on Penis Man.

When Phoenix New Times reached out to Isaac Chavira, Tempe's transportation maintenance manager, for an update this week because of the new tags popping up, he referred questions to the Tempe Police Department.

Detective Natalie Barela got back to New Times today, confirming that Penis Man has penetrated new areas. After saying earlier this month there was no active effort to catch the virile vandal, cops will now try to arrest the offender. Yes, they're looking for tips.

"Based on this information the Tempe Police Department has opened an investigation in attempt to identify and apprehend person/s responsible," she said. "For investigation purposes, we will not be providing any additional details at this time."

Tempe Vice Mayor Lauren Kuby told New Times that she's not opposed to humor, but it's disappointing to see things like the historic flour mill defaced.

"It's like, I get that anything longer than it is wide is phallic, but at a certain point, you just shake your head," she said. "The public works staff has to work extra hours to clean that up."

While it's assumed Penis Man is a man, the identity and gender of the graffiti artist remain unknown. Penis Man copycats have almost certainly been taking up the cause, though it might take a handwriting analysis to be sure.
The graffiti began appearing in Tempe in November, noticed by fans and critics who posted photos of the tags on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and Instagram. A broadcast piece by ABC 15 News (KNXV-TV) went viral, and a follow-up story by New Times on January 6 boosted the story like a shot of Viagra. Suddenly, it seemed everyone was taking a break from hard news about Iran or Trump's impeachment and tuning in to Penis Mania.

In New Times' previous article, Chavira said the tag has been confirmed in 38 locations up to that date. His maintenance crews have been power-washing and painting over it with celerity. But Penis Man's legendary status has grown — there's even a new "Fans of Penis Man" Twitter account, and apparently he's running for president. To some, he's Tempe's version of a new — and artistically cruder — Banksy. To others, he's just a dick.

Below is a sampling of Twitter comments about the graffiti and recent photos of Penis Man tags:


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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.