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Clean-up program teaches lesson to graffiti offenders

If you use the paint, we’ve got a restraint. That was the message delivered under the baking afternoon sun Thursday, as several teens painted a graffiti-covered wall of the Winton Library.

Their sweaty labors were part of the County Probation Department's new graffiti abatement program.

The program will use offenders from the probation department’s juvenile work program or vandals sentenced specifically to graffiti cleanup.

“By having a paint-out I fully expect to see great things with this program and I hope an end to all graffiti in this county as offenders get tired of seeing all of their beautiful work being covered,” said Deidre Kelsey, District 4 supervisor.

Graffiti is a problem in the unincorporated areas of the county and can discourage economic growth and future development, said Mark Hendrickson Merced County’s director of governmental affairs.

Chief Probation Officer Brian Cooley said the program is a win-win because it allows for quicker removal of blight and teaches the offenders a lesson, saving money all the while.

The Merced County Multi-Agency Task Force will also be involved with the new project by tracking incidents and collecting tags to identify where gang members are operating.

At first, the program will concentrate on repairing damage to public property, but private property owners can still report damage and apply for cleanup now.

Several Winton residents affected by the recent vandalism were at the library to watch the repainting Thursday.

“I came out one night, and I saw this library and it broke my heart,” Winton resident Debbie Sullivan said. “It brought tears to my eyes. I can't understand how they have the audacity to do something like this.”

Sullivan is president of the Ladies Auxiliary of the VFW, whose building was also vandalized.

Residents and businesses in the unincorporated areas of the county can report incidents of graffiti to a new hotline at (209) 385-7335.

“It's not going to be a high-tech project for these offenders. Everyone is going to be outside with paint and a roller,” Cooley said.