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Authorities Declare War on Graffiti

Authorities Declare War on Graffiti

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San Diego Union Tribune via YellowBrix

December 30, 2009

VISTA – Vista authorities have their own message for taggers:

“We want them to know that we’re going after them, and it’s going to cost them a lot of money — not only that but jail time,” said Elvys Cabrera, the graffiti investigator for the Vista sheriff’s station.

The arrest Monday of a 16-year-old boy who is believed to be responsible for $100,000 in damage from graffiti vandalism over the past year marks the latest of more than a dozen arrests by Vista deputies since March.

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The boy has been booked into Juvenile Hall on 232 counts of felony vandalism. The Sheriff’s Department is investigating 85 other acts of vandalism that also may be connected to the teenager, Cabrera said.

The latest arrest was significant, because no one else in recent memory has come close to causing as much damage as the suspect arrested Monday, Cabrera said. Last week, deputies arrested a tagger allegedly responsible for $40,000 in damage over a two-year period.

The suspect arrested Monday tagged throughout the city, but concentrated his graffiti along South Santa Fe Avenue north of state Route 78, Cabrera said. He would tag just about every week, going from place to place and making it difficult for authorities to track him. But interviews with several people on the street, records checks and search warrants unrelated to the suspect eventually led investigators to him, Cabrera said.

The teenager worked alone, although he was part of a “tagging crew” — a loosely associated group of taggers, Cabrera said. Tagging is considered a crime that can lead to joining a gang and committing violent offenses, although that doesn’t always happen.

But scrawling graffiti on public property causes plenty of damage. Vista on average spends more than $100,000 a year painting over graffiti, a city spokeswoman said. The city has launched an initiative to paint murals around the city, beginning with walls along the Sprinter rail line, to discourage tagging.

Besides going after taggers on the street, authorities are also working to make sure stores don’t sell spray paint to minors, which is illegal in California, Cabrera said. Parents also have to keep a closer eye on their children, he said.

“If there’s paint on their hands, if you see the kids’ bedroom full of graffiti, you have to be naive not to think they’re tagging on the street,” he said.

The Sheriff’s Department and Oceanside police began using a new computer program this year to better track taggers. The program, which Escondido police began using in 2006, combines photographic records of graffiti with global positioning system technology. It allows law enforcement to more quickly pinpoint where a tagger is operating.

While the Sheriff’s Department is working with cities and coordinating investigations among substations and with the District Attorney’s Office, the continued fight against tagging won’t be easy.

“What’s frustrating is these young kids have no sense of responsibility,” Cabrera said. “The young kids have no remorse. ‘Yeah, I tagged the place,’ they’ll say. ‘So what?’ ”

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