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Catch Me Once, Catch Me 218 Times

Posted: April 2nd, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Press | No Comments »

Graffiti: How to take a nuisance crime, extract evidence and recoup money

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Spotlight: Graffiti Tracker gives you the first tracking and analysis for graffiti

Posted: December 13th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: News | No Comments »

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Spotlight: Graffiti Tracker gives you the first tracking and analysis for graffiti

A comprehensive, web-based system designed to help you identify, track, prosecute and seek restitution from graffiti vandals

Dec 13, 2018

By PoliceOne Staff

1. Where did your company name originate from?

The concept of tracking and analyzing graffiti to extract evidence for law enforcement investigations originated from my research for my master’s thesis on graffiti. Upon finishing my graduate studies I continued to flesh out my theory that graffiti renderings, when properly documented and analyzed, could provide a wealth of evidence desperately needed by local investigative agencies.

2. What was the inspiration behind starting your company?

I graduated with a master’s degree in the summer of 2001. By the summer of 2002 I was working for a local municipality in Los Angeles County where I was applying the theories I had proposed in my master’s thesis. Through this work, what emerged was a web-based solution that agencies could use to rapidly gather, store, and search evidence from graffiti renderings needed for prosecution and restitution recovery.

tracking3. What is your signature product and how does it work?
Graffiti tracking and analysis. Local municipalities photograph graffiti before they abate it using our free mobile app and those photos get sent to us. We analyze each photo and identify the relevant evidence that law enforcement personnel need. This evidence is then cataloged and stored based on GPS and other data points. This information is instantly available to law enforcement personnel to help with their  investigations.

4. Why do you believe your products are essential to your vertical (Police, Fire, EMS,
Corrections, Government) community?

Every year there are hundreds of local municipalities that are spending well over a hundred thousand dollars a year just to paint over someone’s criminal activity. These vandals rarely get caught. Graffiti vandalism is a low-level crime that has a high damage cost and when left undeterred these vandals can utterly destroy a community.

5. What has been the biggest challenge your company has faced?

Any time you introduce a new product to government you’re always met with skepticism, which I think is a good thing. Fortunately our product works exactly as advertised and it doesn’t take
long for government officials to realize the benefits.

6. What makes your company unique?

I was the first to create such a tracking and analysis system.

7. What do your customers like best about you and your products?

Our customers love the fact that the tens of thousands of photographs of graffiti are being stored in an easily searchable and user friendly web-based system. They like how quick our customer service is as well. Three a.m. responses to emails are not uncommon.

8. What is the most rewarding part of serving the first responder/local government

I love that we can come into a new community and help them significantly impact their graffiti problem. A lot of times these communities are frustrated. They’ve easily spent half a million dollars over the last year all because some punk kids decided they wanted to put their nickname on someone else’s property. It’s a problem that when left unaddressed never goes away on its own. It destroys neighborhoods and wastes taxpayers’ money but there’s a very easy solution. It’s the only crime I’m aware of where the criminal signs their name.

9. Do you support any charitable organizations within public safety/community? Tell us more.

Yes, but we don’t talk about it. Charity is best done for charity, not publicity.

10. Is there any fun fact of trivia that you’d like to share with our users about you or your company?

Our 877 number has a hidden code within it. So far, nobody has cracked it and I’m guessing it will never happen.

11. What’s next for your company? Any upcoming new projects or initiatives?

Europe! Vandals in Europe should know that their days of freely destroying those beautiful cities and landmarks will soon be coming to an end.

Spotlight: Graffiti Tracker gives you the first tracking and analysis for graffiti

Posted: December 13th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Press | No Comments »

How police can investigate and prosecute taggers

Posted: November 27th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Press | No Comments »

How police can investigate and prosecute taggers

Posted: November 26th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: News | No Comments »

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How police can investigate and prosecute taggers

Cities spend millions of dollars a year combating this problem without getting restitution

Nov 26, 2018

By PoliceOne Staff

From the drawings on temple walls in ancient Egypt to the inscriptions scattered throughout the
Catacombs of Rome, as long as there have been humans, there has been graffiti.
It’s a problem that police officers need no reminder of – whether rural or urban, big city or small
town, graffiti is a persistent issue plaguing virtually every community in America. In fact, an
estimated $12 billion is spent on cleaning up graffiti per year in the United States, according to
the Department of Justice
. Here’s how police can investigate and prosecute the most prolific of
these vandalizers: taggers.

From broken windows theory to studies that have tracked the correlation between graffiti and
other crime, there’s no denying the criminal cost of graffiti. But perhaps a more compelling
argument for city officials who need to be convinced of the importance of law enforcement’s role
in combatting graffiti is cost and restitution.

Timothy Kephart, founder and CEO of Graffiti Tracker, a web-based solution that helps identify,
track, prosecute and seek restitution from graffiti vandals, sees the issue in many cities: they’re
attacking the problem by just doing cleanup. But that doesn’t really solve the issue when they’re
not prosecuting the people who are responsible. In the end, they’re spending more money than if
they were actually going after the perpetrators.

Uncover the hidden messages in graffiti
Tracking graffiti one tag at a time

“The cities we work with – they’re spending millions of dollars a year, and when they go and
they catch a kid because they’re tracking it, they have this kid’s chronological history of
vandalism that could be 30, 40, 50 or 60 incidents of graffiti,” Kephart said. “So it’s not like
they’re catching a kid that just did one piece of graffiti and that’s it. They’re usually sending to
court cases where there’s dozens of incidents. So the judge is able to see the severity and the
proliferation of this individual and their vandalism. It’s kind of like if you’re going down the
street and you smash a car window, you’re probably going to get a pretty light sentence. But if
the police were to catch you vandalizing and smashing 50 car windows, the courts are going to
take that a lot more seriously, and it’s the same thing with graffiti.”


According to the  U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services,
there are four main types of graffiti: gang, ideological, spontaneous and tagger. Of these four, of
most concern to law enforcement in terms of day-to-day operations is tagger and gang graffiti.

Contrary to popular belief, taggers – not gangs – produce the most graffiti, which can range from
high-volume simple hits to complex street art.

In most cases, taggers come up with a moniker and are driven primarily by tagging that moniker
in as many places as possible, like freeways, bathrooms and construction sites. The more difficult
the spot is to reach, the more impressive the tag. The majority of taggers are young – ranging
from 12 to 18 years old.

“You get some older ones in there, some outliers, but that’s usually the bulk of your taggers,”
Kephart said. “So they don’t really have a high circle of travel; most of their graffiti takes place
in areas close to where they either live or maybe go to school or go to work. Whereas the gang
stuff is pretty much contained within the gang territory.”

Operating mostly late at night or early morning and usually traveling in crews, taggers seek the
notoriety that comes with their vandalism.

“The biggest difference that really comes into play between gang and tagger graffiti is the
motivation,” Kephart said. “The motivation for gang graffiti is spreading fear and intimidation in
the community – to the public, police and other gangs – and that’s why it’s written in a style
where you can easily make out the letters. Whereas tagging graffiti, the motivation is for fame
and notoriety. So the purpose for tagging graffiti is really to get your name out there amongst
your tagger peers.”

Because a tagger’s audience is intended to be others in the subculture, it can be more difficult to
decipher than other forms of graffiti.

Communication is key when it comes to tracking down taggers. In many cities, there is a lack of
coordination and communication between public works and law enforcement, despite both
having an important role in combating graffiti.

“Probably the biggest challenge that city governments face is that you have two completely
separate entities between the law enforcement and the public works folks,” Kephart said. “So law
enforcement, they may hear complaints from the community about the graffiti problem but they
don’t realize the extent of it. And public works, who is in a completely different department and
doesn’t really communicate this information to law enforcement, they may very well be
budgeting half a million to a million dollars a year painting over this problem. But the police
department doesn’t realize how bad that problem is because they don’t see that information.”

Kephart says public works should be utilized by law enforcement for documenting graffiti. Some
police agencies call upon citizens to help, but it’s the graffiti abatement teams that are out there
every day and are going to have the ability to truly capture the scope of the problem.

“You’re never going to have the volume of calls for service equal the volume for what the crews
actually go out and remove,” Kephart said. “They know where the traffic generally is located. So
they’re going out all the time and hitting up those areas where they know there’s always going to
be graffiti and painting over it themselves.”

Cities need a centralized system where all of these agencies targeting graffiti – from public
works to police – can share information. A centralized system to document, decipher and track
these incidents is crucial to successful investigation and prosecution of individual taggers. Of
course, identifying and tracking all these monikers can be time consuming and resource
intensive, which is why services like Graffiti Tracker can help.

“Your best bet is you have your graffiti abatement crews that are already going out there anyway,
have them photograph each incident, upload the incident into our system, we do the analysis so
the police department doesn’t have to spend any resources on that, and then they get all the
benefits where they see who’s doing the most damage, where they’re doing the most damage,
what locations, and how frequently,” Kephart said. “So when they go after the person, he’s no
longer being charged with one or two counts of vandalism, he’s being charged with 40, 50 or 60
counts of vandalism because you can see all this money. And most importantly, that means
agencies and city municipal governments can start getting this money back that they’re spending
now – they can get it back in the form of restitution.”

Free Online Course | Reducing Graffiti in Your Community

Posted: November 21st, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Press | No Comments »

Uncover the hidden messages in graffiti

Posted: November 5th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Press | No Comments »

Uncover the hidden messages in graffiti

Posted: November 5th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: News | No Comments »

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Uncover the hidden messages in graffiti

When the crime is the evidence, a web-based tool can help you investigate even after tagging or
gang graffiti is removed or painted over

Nov 5, 2018

By Laura Neitzel, PoliceOne Staff

British graffiti artist and prankster Banksy shocked the art world when his “Girl with Balloon”
moments after a patron bought it for $1.4 million at a Sotheby’s auction. What a
wanton act of destruction of something so valuable, some decried.

The irony was not lost on Timothy Kephart, the founder of Graffiti Tracker, a web-based solution
that helps identify, track, prosecute and seek restitution from graffiti vandals. Cleanup of graffiti-
based vandalism costs in excess of $12 billion annually in the U.S., according to a 2015 study by
the paint company Valspar

graffiti_01Graffiti as a form of self-expression
has been around since the invention of
writing. But while some graffiti artists
have risen to prominence in the art world,
one needs only answer a single question
to distinguish “graffiti art” from “graffiti
vandalism” – did the person creating the
work have Permission from the property
owner? Absent permission, graffiti is a crime.

guide on graffiti published by the DOJ’s
Office of Community Oriented Policing
explains that “rather than
being a senseless destruction of property,
graffiti fulfills certain psychological needs, including providing excitement and action, a sense of control
and an element of risk.” These motivations range from boredom, self-expression, prestige and
fame to defiance of authority, hostility, anger and intimidation.

Graffiti: How to take a nuisance crime, extract evidence and recoup money
Tracking graffiti one tag at a time

Fortunately for law enforcement, the psychological motivations that drive a graffiti vandal to
commit the crime also impel them to leave a trail of clues to their identity, location and
affiliations. Understanding the different motivations of each type of graffiti is critical to
understanding how to combat it.

While graffiti artists like Banksy make headlines, graffiti as artistic expression represents only a
tiny percentage of graffiti worldwide. The two most prevalent categories of graffiti vandalism are
gang graffiti and tagging graffiti.
There are two very different motivations behind the two, says Kephart, and each motivation can
be used to go investigate and reduce the problem.

The motivation behind the gang graffiti is fear and intimidation, he adds.

“They’re trying to put as much fear and intimidation to the community, to law enforcement and
to other rival gangs,” he said.

Recognizable by its block letters and general lack of artistic flourish, gang graffiti exists
primarily as a communication tool
. Gang graffiti can mark the boundaries of the gang’s claimed
jurisdiction or “turf,” be used to taunt or threaten other gangs or individuals, boast of
achievements and send coded business communications, such as the time and place of drug

Roll call graffiti is a listing of the monikers of two or more members of the same gang, along
with the gang name or symbol. Paying attention to the monikers that appear together gives law
enforcement clues about the identities of gang members and their cliques.

“You get an idea of which gang members are friends that hang out and spend time with one
another,” said Kephart. “So, if one of them gets involved in a shooting and there was another
person with them, it might help narrow down the list of suspects because these two have put their
graffiti up 10 or 15 times over the last month.”

Monikers can also indicate to police when there is an escalation of violence. An X crossing out a
moniker means that gang member is targeted for murder or an attack. Wings on a moniker are a
tribute to a slain gang member and may be a clue to law enforcement that rival gangs will be
seeking revenge.

Tagging graffiti represents about 80 percent of all graffiti worldwide. The motivation behind
tagging graffiti – often more stylized and colorful – is for fame and notoriety. The more difficult
the location of the tag, the more notoriety for the tagger.

“Some kid – let’s say your average 13, 14-year-old kid that does this, he adopts a nickname,” said
Kephart. “Say it’s Lungs. He’s going to go and write Lungs everywhere. He’s going to be known
by it. His friends are going to call him Lungs. His social media accounts are going to reference
the name Lungs. That’s become his new identity, so he’s going to put that in as many locations as
possible and brag about it.”

Because recognition is important, the tagger tends to express the same motif – the graffiti’s style
and content are replicated over and over again, becoming the tagger’s unique signature. As the
tagger builds his portfolio, law enforcement gains more evidence.

Graffiti vandalism is a unique crime in that the very motivations for self-expression, notoriety
and fame that lead graffiti artists and vandals to create graffiti are also weaknesses that can be
exploited by law enforcement to identify, apprehend and bring them to justice. In essence, it’s the
only crime where the evidence is the crime and the crime is the evidence.

Depriving gang members and taggers of the visibility of their graffiti – and thus their notoriety –
has been shown to be effective in reducing graffiti incidents. That’s why most communities
follow a policy of painting over or removing graffiti as soon as possible after the incident is

Unfortunately, in their haste to remove the graffiti, many communities are inadvertently
destroying evidence that can help law enforcement build a case.

With Graffiti Tracker, police can within moments easily record photographic evidence of the
graffiti, noting its location and other details that can provide crucial information about the
tagger’s identity and tie them to other graffiti incidents. The information then goes into Graffiti
Tracker’s web-based system, where it is analyzed for hidden messages that might tip off police to

an escalation of gang violence, for instance.
Graffiti Tracker also records evidence that allows law enforcement to track activity, trace it to a
specific tagger and build a case for prosecution that can result in arrest and restitution. Not only
does this benefit the community by reimbursing some of the costs of graffiti abatement, the
intervention can keep a young graffiti vandal from a life of crime.

“What better way to identify them than such a low-level crime where you can get the restitution
back and impact the child at a young age to hopefully steer them on the right path,” said Kephart,
who has personally steered several young vandals toward a more productive future. “The kid
also stops putting the graffiti up that can be used to prosecute him and gain restitution or, even
better, prevent him from joining a gang or furthering a criminal career. It’s a win-win in every
single way.”

Graffiti: How to take a nuisance crime, extract evidence and recoup money

Posted: September 7th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: News | No Comments »

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Graffiti: How to take a nuisance crime, extract evidence and recoup money

Close analysis can reveal valuable information that your department can use as evidence to seek
prosecution and restitution

Sep 7, 2018

By Laura Neitzel, PoliceOne Staff

When Timothy Kephart was in graduate school and looking for a job in criminal justice, little did
he know that the entry-level crime analyst position he took at the city of Carson, California,
would lead to a lifelong career. His first task was to go out every day and take pictures of the
new graffiti that had appeared overnight.

graffiti_02He had no idea what it all meant, so Kephart
sought help from a gang detective at the L.A.
County Sheriff’s Department, who taught him
how to read the code. After a few months of
gathering daily photos, Kephart noticed
patterns emerging. He realized that graffiti was
a language that could be deciphered to provide
law enforcement with clues to the tagger’s
identity, as well as actionable intelligence
about gang affiliations, rivalries and threats.

“I realized that if law enforcement had this
information, it could help them not only address the graffiti problem on the tagging
side, it also would give the gang intelligence unit information they needed,” Kephart, founder of 
Graffiti Tracker, said. “Law enforcement can use the information extracted from the gang graffiti
to track gang membership, prove motive for murder or even prevent a murder.”

Tracking graffiti one tag at a time

Using intelligence gained from gang graffiti to halt escalation of gang violence is a worthy goal
in itself. But nationally, gang graffiti represents only 10 percent of all graffiti. Another 5 to 10
percent is generic “Bobby loves Sue”-type graffiti.

The vast majority, 80 percent, is tagging graffiti. That’s where Kephart thinks law enforcement
should be focusing their efforts in order to put a curb on the problem.

The very nature of tagging graffiti – in which the tag is the offender’s personal alias, acronym or
 – makes tagging vandalism a unique crime in that the perpetrator brazenly leaves clues
to his or her identity and the location of the crime.

“A tagger’s motivation is for fame and notoriety. It’s the only crime that I’m familiar with where
they sign their name,” said Kephart.

Denver Partners Against Graffiti describes tagging vandalism as “like logo placement or brand
advertising. The primary goal of tagging is to advertise the vandal’s ‘tag’ (or street name) and
‘crew’ (tagging group or gang set) and get recognition from others for prominent placement of
tags throughout the city.”

Recognizing that unabated graffiti can lead to a decline in property values and other detriments
to the community, common practice is to paint over graffiti within 24 to 48 hours. Since the
graffiti tagger is looking for recognition, the less time the tag remains visible, the less rewarding
it is for the tagger. Unfortunately, this often just leaves a fresh canvas, inviting a challenge for
another tagger to tag the same spot or for the original tagger to reinforce ownership.

This tag-paint-tag-paint game between police and graffiti vandals can seem like an endless cycle,
leaving many law enforcement agencies to consider tagging graffiti as a low-level, nuisance
crime that is just part of the status quo of any community. Consequently, many agencies and
municipalities without an advanced graffiti reduction strategy resign themselves to routinely
budgeting thousands of dollars for graffiti abatement each year without realizing there is a way
to recoup some of that cost.

By spending money on abatement before extracting evidence, Kephart realized that police were
missing the opportunity to gain restitution from graffiti vandals. So he created Graffiti Tracker,
an actionable, intelligence-based system that helps agencies document tagging graffiti and
preserve evidence that can be used to identify a suspect and build a case. Within minutes, graffiti
evidence can be documented and uploaded to a database for analysis, and abatement can

Graffiti Tracker provides its clients access to a free mobile app so any police officer, public
works department worker or even a citizen volunteer can photograph graffiti. The location is
automatically tracked with the photograph and uploaded to a secure, web-based system. Within
24 hours of submission, Graffiti Tracker analysts extract key pieces of evidence that can be used
for investigation. The system builds a database of graffiti by the vandal’s tag or crew and
location in order to connect incidents and create a complete profile of activity by tagger and

“When we connect that data, we can see that this tagger has appeared with this tagger 15
different times,” said Kephart. “If you catch one tagger, there’s a likelihood he’s going to
lead you to another.”

An advantage of Graffiti Tracker is the experience of its human analysts in decoding gang
graffiti and alerting law enforcement to potential threats.

“If the analysts see that a gang threatens to kill somebody from another gang, they immediately
put that information into a report and send it via email to law enforcement,” said Kephart.

To date, Graffiti Tracker has analyzed over 5 million photographs, helped police identify and
arrest over 4,000 graffiti vandals and helped municipalities recoup over $9 million in restitution.