Merced area graffiti battle heating up

More vandalism reported as weather gets warmer

mnorth@mercedsunstar.comApril 23, 2013 

— As temperature gauges go up, so does the graffiti.

Police from Merced and Atwater are reporting an increase in the form of vandalism, but they also have plans in place to fight back against those defacing their communities.

Detective Allen Adrian of the Merced Police Department, who focuses on graffiti and financial crimes, said he's seen "a drastic increase" in the amount of graffiti in the area.

With the weather warming up, tagging crews within the city and on the outskirts of the city are becoming more active, he said.

"I've noticed a lot of the graffiti involving highway tagging crews," Adrian said. "It's increased a lot. Some of these tagging crews that stick to the highway are now bleeding into the city."

Not all of the taggers are involved with street gangs, Adrian noted. Some are involved in groups that try to gain recognition by tagging their crew's name throughout a certain area.

Rivalries between crews can lead to fights and other conflicts as they cross out each other's name in the battle over territory, he added.

The Atwater Police Department has been dealing with similar issues. Lt. Sam Joseph said Atwater has had a spike in graffiti over the past few months.

He said the Police Department is reassembling its Special Crimes Unit, which had been shut down because of budget constraints. Since Atwater residents passed an additional half-cent sales tax aimed at augmenting public safety services, the department plans to reinstate that unit, Joseph said.

Part of the unit's purpose is to take on high-priority crimes that patrol officers don't always have time to deal with -- such as graffiti. Joseph hopes the crackdown on graffiti will deter some of those responsible.

Like Atwater, Merced officials are also taking steps to reduce graffiti.

About 15 to 20 cameras have been set up in graffiti-prone areas of the city and are moved around, said David Gonzalves, Merced's director of development services.

Merced also has a $172,000-a-year contract with a graffiti abatement company that plays a critical role in the city's push to rid itself of the vandalism. That contract runs through 2014.

Environmental Compliance Resources LLC, which operates in Merced, Atwater and other areas of the county, covers more than 100 tags a day in Merced, said Paul Creighton, the firm's chief executive officer.

The company identifies the graffiti by communicating with the police, getting tips from the public and patrolling high-traffic areas.

The main corridors through Merced are routinely patrolled, such as Highway 140, Highway 99, 16th Street, Olive Avenue, Parsons Avenue, Yosemite Avenue, G Street, M Street, R Street and the bike paths, Creighton said.

There are other patrol routes, but they're selected on a random basis.

The company has covered more than 2 million square feet of graffiti in Merced City since 2010, Creighton said.

Environmental Compliance Resources matches paint to mask the graffiti.

In a push to be environmentally friendly, the company also recycles and restores discarded paint for use in its graffiti abatement trucks.

Adrian said communication between police and graffiti abatement groups is essential to fixing the problem. Once a tag is reported, it's often removed within a day to a day and a half.

"This town could look just destroyed in a matter of months" if it weren't for the city's graffiti abatement service, he said.

Although the police force and graffiti abatement can do a lot to quell graffiti, Adrian stressed the importance of parental intervention. Cans of spray paint, tagging in notebooks and paint markers are all indicators that a child may be involved in tagging, he said.

If a parent suspects his or her child may be involved in tagging, they can contact Adrian at (209) 385-4731.

Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or

Whom to call

Atwater Police: (209) 357-6396

Merced Environmental Compliance: (209) 761-0954

Livingston Public Works: (209) 394-8044

Los Banos Police: (209) 827-7070, ext. 224

Gustine Police: (209) 854-1010

Dos Palos Police: (209) 392-2176

Merced County Sheriff's dispatch: (209) 385-7445

Profile of a graffiti vandal

11 to 26 years old

Most high school age, 13 to 18 years old

Majority male

All ethnic backgrounds

All economic and social backgrounds

Often very organized

View tagging as an extreme sport rather than a crime

Computer literate

Most discouraged from further activity after first serious police contact

Those not discouraged move on to more serious crimes, such as carjacking, burglaries, arson, etc.

Associates with skaters, party crews, ravers and sometimes gangs

Low self-esteem or looking to belong

Believe tagging is freedom of expression

Looking for notoriety

Extreme loyalty to other taggers

Views police as the adversary in a game

Tools used by graffiti vandals

Spray paint, shoe polish, permanent markers, acrylic paint, paint in a can, items or substances to etch windows

Types of graffiti vandalism

Communicative, hate crime, gang, tagger, artistic

Studies have shown that if graffiti is removed within

12 hours after it is applied, there is only a 5 percent chance of reoccurrence.

Source: Merced Police Department

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