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How a California town reduced youth vandalism and recaptured costs

Posted: November 21st, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: News | No Comments »

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How a California town reduced youth vandalism and recaptured costs
Reducing abatement costs, recouping funds, and diverting youth from criminal activity go from goals to realities

Nov 21, 2019

By Josh Ogle for PoliceOne BrandFocus

A teenager on their morning walk to school stops to wait at a crosswalk. They pull a black permanent marker from their pocket, and with a few flourishes, a tag takes shape on the nearby electrical box. The crosswalk signal changes and the tagger is gone from the scene of the crime. What cost the tagger a few seconds to achieve has set in motion a process that will cost their city in both money and man-hours. How much it will cost, and whether it will recoup that cost is up to the city.

tagger

Located along the 78 Freeway in the San Diego North County area of California, Escondido is a mid-sized city of approximately 155,000 people. Just like all urban areas, Escondido faces its fair share of criminal activity. Dealing with everything from auto theft to various gang-related activities, Escondido must be judicious in how it allocates the time of its roughly 150 sworn officers, and graffiti is not always a high priority. Graffiti Tracker has provided a solution that saves the city time and money, with the side benefit of offering a lesson to its wayward youth.

FINDING TIME

With Graffiti Tracker, an Escondido Public Works Division worker simply uses the app to photograph graffiti, and it is automatically uploaded to Graffiti Tracker. There is no need for an officer to report to the scene to photograph the graffiti, sit down, and review and analyze the photographs, which saves not only officers’ time but also the city’s money. Once an image is uploaded to the app, photos of graffiti are reviewed by Graffiti Tracker analysts for critical pieces of evidence within 24 hours of submission.

Additionally, Graffiti Tracker enables Escondido officers to tie all the damage done by a tagger back to them once they have been captured. One particularly active gang-affiliated tagger, operating under the tagger moniker “Betoe,” caused approximately $20,000 worth of damage to Escondido businesses and properties over seven months. When the offender was finally apprehended, officers only needed a few minutes to pull up relevant information, including photographs, of all the tagging Betoe had done throughout the city of Escondido. Without Graffiti Tracker, the process of retrieving all the information would have taken days of searching through files and photographs.

FINDING MONEY

Besides gaining efficiencies by saving officers’ time, Graffiti Tracker has also allowed Escondido to begin to recoup some of the costs of graffiti abatement. Before the city’s implementation of Graffiti Tracker, court-ordered restitution to Escondido businesses was roughly $22,000 per year. However, in just one year of using Graffiti Tracker, court-ordered restitution amounts to Escondido businesses jumped to more than $185,000.

While offenders’ ability to pay restitution may vary drastically, according to the Public Works Division of Escondido, from July 2018 to February 2019, the city collected over $5,100 in restitution. While this sum recovered in restitution may not be a huge dollar amount, the deterrent effect of word spreading among youths that tagging has major, tangible costs and consequences was of substantial value.

FINDING RESULTS

Escondido has also found further successes with its juvenile diversion program by coupling it with the use of Graffiti Tracker. According to Detective Bill Havens of the Escondido Police Department, most of the taggers the city deals with are juvenile offenders. In most instances, taggers are youths that will attempt to place their monikers in as many places as possible, seeking notoriety and respect among other tagger crews. While this is true of most taggers the city deals with, there also exists a darker, gang-related side of graffiti.

Graffiti Tracker allows Escondido Police to differentiate between juveniles just getting started in tagging and established ones tied to gangs. In doing so, officers are capable of identifying minors that may benefit from the department’s juvenile diversion program. According to Havens, if Graffiti Tracker shows a juvenile tagger is responsible for “larger [graffiti pieces] or a lot of the gang graffiti, especially if the kid isn’t . . . remorseful, we just send that down to the district attorney’s office for prosecution.” On the other hand, if Graffiti Tracker shows a juvenile only has a few minor incidents that are not tied to gangs, Havens says, “diversion can steer them in the right direction and then we don’t see them again.”

Aggressive approaches to abatement coupled with Graffiti Tracker have allowed Escondido to curtail its graffiti problem substantially. If the walls in Escondido could talk, they would no longer speak of taggers and gang activity, but a city where citizens and their property are well protected.


How one community reduced crime using graffiti analysis

Posted: July 19th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: News | No Comments »

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How one community reduced crime using graffiti analysis
An integrated strategy includes cleaning up graffiti, prosecuting vandals, working with the community and decoding threats

Jul 19, 2019

By Laura Neitzel, PoliceOne BrandFocus Staff

During the heyday of L.A.’s gang wars in the late ’90s, crime spilled into the tidy, working-class neighborhoods of this small city in Los Angeles County.

graffiti

Today, some 20 years later, community leaders and residents are able to concern themselves less with crime and more with quality-of-life issues, like the famously congested SoCal traffic.

That’s thanks in part to a concerted effort by officials of Paramount’s public safety department to address some of the underlying factors that affect crime rates and to implement strategies to nip lower-level crimes in the bud before they become bigger problems.

One of those gateway crimes is graffiti vandalism. A commonly held theory in criminal justice and policing suggests that visible signs of vandalism, such as broken windows or graffiti, encourage further crime and disorder, whereas an environment that is visibly cared for sends the signal that crime is not tolerated.

“If you have graffiti, you’re not going to attract the hardworking individuals that are going to give to your economy,” said Adriana Lopez, Paramount’s public safety director. “These are the people who want to buy their first home and make sure that their kids are doing well in school. They see graffiti as related to crime.”

In 2009, Paramount recorded an average of about 15,000 graffiti incidents per year, says Anthony Martinez, a management analyst for Paramount’s public safety department. This got the attention of city officials, who began to look for a solution that would help them curtail the problem. They chose to implement Graffiti Tracker, a comprehensive, web-based system that helps police and public works departments document instances of graffiti and upload photos for permanent storage and review by highly-trained staff who analyze and report on any gang information or tagging monikers that can be useful in thwarting violence or apprehending and prosecuting suspects.

“Graffiti Tracker provided that investigative tool that allowed us to identify, prosecute and seek restitution from our most active vandals, whether taggers or documented gang members,” said Martinez. “Some of our deputies that are assigned to address these quality-of-life issues gained the information they needed to start putting cases against them for them for felony vandalism.”

Between 2015 and 2018, Paramount achieved some impressive statistics in their war against crime:

  • A 68% reduction in graffiti incidents.
  • A 93% 10-year decrease in gang-related crimes.
  • A 63% yearly decrease in gang-related crimes.

Here are four tips from city leaders for getting the most out of Graffiti Tracker to deter crime:

ABATE GRAFFITI QUICKLY

Graffiti Tracker allows law enforcement, city public works department employees and others to take a photo of a graffiti tag and upload the photographic evidence to a data repository for storage and analysis within 24 hours.

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Approximately 80% of graffiti activity is “tagging” – the motivation for which is fame and notoriety for the tagger, who is most often a male between the ages of 12 and 17. The tagger will adopt a moniker that he stylizes and spray paints in publicly visible places. The more visible the tag or the more difficult it is to reach, the more the tagger gains in stature, often retagging the same spot repeatedly once cities scrub or repaint.

The speed at which graffiti can be documented and then abated is key for this reason: By abating or painting over the tag as soon as possible, the city denies the tagger the visibility of his moniker and thus the thing he craves most – status among his peers.

“In Paramount, our philosophy and message to the residents is that we remove graffiti within 72 hours,” said Lopez, “and usually within just 24.”

The city also encourages homeowners to use standard paint colors so that when graffiti needs to be abated, it can be done so quickly and in a visual style that’s in keeping with the neighborhood, avoiding the patchwork of different paint colors that signal graffiti lurks underneath.

TRACK AND PROSECUTE VANDALISM

When Paramount started using Graffiti Tracker to track and analyze graffiti, it gave the city the ability to monitor which tags were made by which individual and where they occurred. Once the tagger is identified, he or she can be identified and be held responsible for the damages, including restitution.

“Graffiti is like social media, where the person tells everyone what they do, where they go and who all their friends are,” said Lopez. “Say you have a gang member whose moniker is ‘Puppet.’ Right away, we are able to start tracking Puppet because we know he likes to hang out at this area because that’s where all his graffiti is.”

By knowing where Puppet is likely to appear again, law enforcement can start connecting the dots and potentially catch him committing acts of vandalism or other crimes and start building a case for prosecution.

COLLABORATE WITH THE COMMUNITY

Often, however, restitution may be impossible for a family with few financial resources, and in the case of a minor, the parents may be completely unaware of their child’s behavior. Requiring families to make even a small, monthly amount of restitution can be a regular reminder for the parents to stay involved in their child’s life and a reminder to the tagger that his or her actions have an impact on their loved ones.

“It’s not the fact that we’re getting restitution,” said Martinez. “It’s the fact that a message has been sent out that you will be responsible and we are tracking your activities. We’ll get maybe $75 here, $25 there – nothing significant. But a message has been sent out.”

Regardless of ability to pay, holding taggers accountable when they are teenagers engaged in low-level vandalism may be enough to steer them away from a life of more serious crime.

“Sometimes if it’s just the beginning of this criminal career for this person, it could sway him not to do something,” said Lopez.

Martinez also advocates getting the rest of the community involved. He and Lopez are both active with local schools to help principals and faculty identify at-risk youth and intervene when would-be taggers start with a small moniker in a school bathroom, for instance.

INVESTIGATE GANG ACTIVITY TO PREVENT VIOLENCE

Graffiti Tracker also provides an investigative tool that allows investigators to quickly identify a threat, whether it’s a threat to peace officers or a threat to other gang members.

“We have used Graffiti Tracker countless times to identify active gang members that were involved in violent crimes,” said Martinez, who is often called upon to decode the messages hidden in plain sight in the graffiti.

“For instance, ‘187’ is the California Penal Code for murder,” said Martinez. “It’s typical when one gang puts ‘187’ alongside with the moniker of a rival gang member, or even a law enforcement officer, they are planning murder against that person.”

Graffiti is not merely a nuisance. When a threat is made from one gang to a rival gang through graffiti, the gang is essentially advertising their criminal activity, tipping off law enforcement that there is a looming threat of violence.

“That tells us that in the next week or two, odds are that whoever is responsible for the graffiti is going to show up again, and probably in possession of a firearm, either to commit a murder or for protection,” said Martinez. “Our ability through Graffiti Tracker to remove them through arrest based off the criminal acts of vandalism also assists us in preventing violent crime both for the tagger or gang member, and for the general public who may or may not be victims of a stray bullet.”


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

Posted: January 18th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Press | No Comments »


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
community?

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.

WHY INVESTIGATING AND PROSECUTING GRAFFITI VANDALS MATTERS
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.

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“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.”

TAGGER GRAFFITI VS. GANG 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.

TARGETING GRAFFITI THE SMART WAY
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 »