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Local municipalities, law enforcement agencies aggressive in battle against graffiti

Daily Press - 4/14/2018

April 13--The writing is on the wall -- graffiti crime damages the image of any community and spreads fear of crime throughout the local populace.

Municipalities in the High Desert have spent thousands of dollars to battle their share of tagged signs, businesses, bridges, sidewalks and businesses.

A study by the Department of Justice found that graffiti discourages people from using mass transit, makes business districts less attractive to shoppers and increases fear of gangs among residents.

Law enforcement and community officials across the country talk about how graffiti -- usually spray-painted or applied with indelible markers --is costly in terms of removal, lowers property values and causes businesses to close shop.

"Graffiti is one of the most visible signs of general decline in an area, and cities are fed up with it," says Timothy Kephart, founder of Graffiti Tracker, a web-based system designed to help identify and prosecute graffiti vandals. "Cities across the nation recognize how graffiti vandals continue to hurt their image and their tax base, so they're finding different ways to fight back more effectively.

Residents and civic officials believe the High Desert has taken aggressive measures to combat graffiti vandalism in an area that continues to grow.

Last year, the city of Victorville's graffiti abatement program, operated through its Public Works Department, responded to 2,579 locations and removed approximately 254,909 square feet of graffiti in various locations throughout the city, according to city spokeswoman Sue Jones.

The city's budget for graffiti removal was $87,000 for the year as crews removed graffiti from walls, signs, buildings, block walls, sidewalks and utility cabinets, she added.

The cleanup bill for Victorville was a drop in the bucket compared to Los Angeles, whose estimated annual cost is $7 million, and Las Vegas at $3 million.

"Our crew responds to reports as soon as possible. In some cases, they will respond the same day we receive the report," Jones said. "We don't report locations where we've removed graffiti because some may view it as a challenge to vandalize the location again."

Code enforcement officers with the town of Apple Valley dished out over $73,000 last year to remove/clean nearly 1,350 acts of graffiti vandalism throughout the town.

"The town is pretty good about coming out and taking care of graffiti," said Dana Trenton, who lives near the Apple Valley Village in the eastern part of town. "The fences in our neighborhood get tagged about three times a year, but code enforcement usually takes care of it within a few days."

After confirming the reported violation, officers with the town begin the process of removing the graffiti free of charge if the property owner's waiver is on file. If a waiver is not on file, a form will be sent to the property owner with a request that it be signed and returned to the city.

If a property prefers not to sign a waiver, the graffiti will be treated as a normal code enforcement violation, and the property owner will be required to remove the graffiti within a specified time frame.

Two crews from the city of Hesperia worked to remove graffiti two years ago from 3,500 public and private locations across the city, according to Dan Sousa, the environmental programs coordinator for the city.

"Because applying graffiti is a misdemeanor crime, it does not result in jail time for convicted offenders," Hesperia spokeswoman Rachel Molina said. "However, for each case compiled by detectives, restitution is requested for both public and private victims. While we request restitution of parents for underage offenders, it is up to the judge to determine if that will be awarded."

Gangs often use graffiti as a form of communication, or for territory tagging. Most graffiti is done by youths who are either being initiated into gang activity or see their environment as a starting point for crime, Kephart said.

"Often, graffiti is a gateway crime for juvenile offenders," Kephart says. "If we can identify them at an early age, there's a stronger possibility they can be re-directed onto a more productive path."

The San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department began using Graffiti Tracker nearly 10 years ago to track, identify and arrest graffiti vandals, the Daily Press previously reported.

The web-based graffiti intelligence service tracks photos downloaded onto the Graffiti Tracker website, along with the GPS information. Graffiti experts analyze the photos to decipher the moniker or gang name.

Adelanto officials were not able to provide information for this story.

Reporting graffiti vandalism

Civic leaders continue to ask the public to report all acts of graffiti vandalism. When reporting, residents are asked to provide authorities with a description of the participants, vehicle description and vehicle license plate number.

Graffiti hotline phone numbers:

* Adelanto: 760-246-2300 ext. 3075.

* Apple Valley: 760-240-7560.

* Hesperia: 760-947-1600

* Victorville: 760-261-2222

Persons wishing to remain anonymous are urged to call the We-tip Hotline at 1-800-78-CRIME (27463) or leave information on the We-Tip Hotline at www.wetip.com. For more information on Graffiti Tracker, visit www.graffititracker.com.

Reporter Rene Ray De La Cruz may be reached at 760-951-6227, RDeLaCruz@VVDailyPress.com, Twitter @DP_ReneDeLaCruz and Instagram @reneraydelacruz.

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(c)2018 Daily Press, Victorville, Calif.

Visit Daily Press, Victorville, Calif. at www.vvdailypress.com

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