You are on page 1of 4

Taggers Beware: The Writing is on the Wall from Law Enforcement Technology at Officer.

com

A Cygnus Business Media Website Officer.com Web Search

NewsAgency SearchWeb DirectoryProductsCareer CenterDiscussionMagazines

Section Sponsor
e-Alerts
Home
Sign Up for Free
News for Cops e-mail
Most Read Most E-mailed E-mail Article Print Article
Notifications
Jobs Central
Home > Law Enforcement Technology
Officer Forums

Promo
Offers
Resources Taggers Beware: The Writing is on the
Job Updates
Wall

Directory
✔ Daily News
Shop/Products
From the September 2005 Issue

Officer
Magazines Down
By Douglas Page
Services Enter Email
Advertise In the United States the annual cost of graffiti abatement programs is Click to Go
estimated between $10 and $12 billion. In just the mass transit industry, the
Link/Bookmark cost of vandalism is growing by 11 percent a year, according to a survey
sponsored by the Federal Transit Administration.
Contact
In New York City alone, the average cost of removing graffiti increased from
$300,000 to $10 million between 1993 and 2003. The City of Las Vegas has
three full-time employees who remove graffiti by painting over it or blasting it
off with a power sprayer.

In 10 years prior to 2002, Operation Clean Sweep in Los Angeles, a long-term


beautification program designed to promote community participation in
neighborhood improvement projects, removed 162 million square feet of
graffiti.

Graffiti removal can come with more than a monetary cost. A graffiti-removal
worker painting over a wall in the Boyle Heights area of Los Angeles was
fatally shot in June 2004 by a gunman who police believe was angry because
his gang tags were being covered.

Graffiti tells a story

Most cities fight graffiti with their paint brushes by quickly dispatching work
crews to slather a coat of fresh paint over tagger or gang scribblings. In doing
so they are also removing a valuable source of intelligence. One city in
California has found a way to exploit graffiti by establishing a tracking
program that empowers law enforcement and prosecutors to use this form of
street-level intelligence in court.

Timothy Kephart, a Carson crime analyst, graduate student at California State


University-Long Beach, and president of Crime Prevention and Graffiti
Consulting, analyzed more than 450 gang graffiti photographs in the Carson
area for his master’s thesis.

http://www.officer.com/print/Law-Enforcement-Technology/Taggers-Beware--The-Writing-is-on-the-Wall/1$26234 (1 of 4)6/27/2009 9:41:03 PM


Taggers Beware: The Writing is on the Wall from Law Enforcement Technology at Officer.com

“It became clear that gangs were using graffiti to actually communicate,” he
says.

Kephart identified five forms of graffiti communication — publicity, roll call,


territorial, threatening and sympathetic graffiti.

Kephart says publicity gang graffiti contains the name or abbreviation of the
gang’s name but does not include a threat, mark territory or have any
monikers listed. Publicity graffiti is the most frequent graffiti found in the
study, accounting for 47 percent of the analyzed images.

Roll call graffiti (26 percent) contains the gang name and a list of gang
monikers.

Territorial graffiti (17 percent) is identified by some sort of symbolic or


semantically written graffiti that marks a gang’s territory. Typically, this is in
the form of an arrow pointing down.

Threatening graffiti renderings contain some sort of threatening message


aimed at a rival gang or sometimes at law enforcement. “This can appear as a
gang crossing out another gang’s graffiti or writing the numbers 187
(California penal code for murder) next to another gang’s name,” Kephart
says. Although threatening graffiti may be the type most frequently talked
about, it is one of the least frequently (9 percent) observed.

Sympathetic graffiti was the least observed (1 percent). Kephart says this
type of graffiti is put up to honor a slain gang member, usually in the form of
an RIP (rest in peace).

Get the message

Each of these various types of graffiti can be useful to law enforcement and
prosecutors, according to Kephart.

Roll call graffiti can help prove gang membership when prosecutors are
seeking greater punishments of gang members through gang enhancements.
Territorial graffiti can assist law enforcement in determining which gangs are
expanding their boundaries. Publicity graffiti can be used when seeking gang
injunctions to prove that a gang has become a public nuisance. “Threatening
graffiti can be used to prove motive for murder or assault,” he says.

Kephart’s research lead him to develop two software tracking packages —


Graffiti Analysis/Intelligence Tracking System (GAITS) and Vandal
Apprehension/Graffiti Reduction Program (VanGraff).

GAITS is designed to extract the intelligence information from graffiti


photographs and provide detailed intelligence reports regarding each
incidence of graffiti. Each piece of intelligence information in the report is
attached to an image of the respective graffiti and can be quickly accessed on
a computer.

“Now, when an offender is caught putting up graffiti, they are not just charged
with one count of vandalism; they can be held accountable for all of the other
damage for which they are responsible,” Kephart says.

This has two main benefits. One, it sends a signal to the offenders that their
vandalism is being tracked. Two, a city can seek restitution from offenders for
all of the damage that they have committed, not merely a single incident.

Another advantage is that GAITS interfaces with GIS mapping software. “By
mapping a suspect’s graffiti, we can demonstrate a nexus between the

http://www.officer.com/print/Law-Enforcement-Technology/Taggers-Beware--The-Writing-is-on-the-Wall/1$26234 (2 of 4)6/27/2009 9:41:03 PM


Taggers Beware: The Writing is on the Wall from Law Enforcement Technology at Officer.com

geographic location of the graffiti and the location of the offender’s residence,”
Kephart says.

This has been used successfully in the course of securing search warrants of
gang members’ residences. During the course of the search it is common not
only to find instruments of the crime but also additional graffiti at the
offender’s residence. This graffiti can then be matched in style to the graffiti
stored in the GAITS program.

Legends of the wall

Using Kephart’s methods of comparing graffiti to known gang members,


Carson took down the second largest tagging crew in the area. “We were able
to track all of the graffiti by this tagging crew, and specifically the individual
taggers, and identify where they were putting up their graffiti,” says Capt.
Todd Rogers of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office, Carson Station.
“Subsequently, we found the responsible parties and arrested three of the four
members from this crew. The fourth called us and turned himself in.”

In another example, a new tagger that recently moved to Carson began


putting up graffiti over a four-month period. Using GAITS, the graffiti was
found to be located in a circumference around his house, the park he
frequented and the school he attended.

“After using those locations to limit the suspect pool, we came up with our
suspect,” Rogers says. “Concerned citizens confirmed who the vandal was,
and we obtained and executed a search warrant on his house, which turned
up many graffiti tools, photos of his graffiti damage and a listing of many of
the locations he vandalized outside of the Carson area.”

As a result, he was charged with felony vandalism and plead guilty. In fact,
every graffiti case filed by the Carson district attorney has resulted in a guilty
verdict.

Rogers says what makes this program different is the close collaboration with
law enforcement. “We have had several programs in the past that have
tracked graffiti; however, they were rendered meaningless due to a lack of
law enforcement follow-up,” Rogers says.

In this case, Carson provides Rogers the resources needed to commit a


trained gang investigator, albeit on a limited basis, to be proactive relative to
the information Kephart provides.

“The bottom line is that we are now able to respond on a sustained basis to
graffiti issues throughout our city,” Rogers says.

Douglas Page writes about science and technology from Pine Mountain,
California. To contact him, e-mail douglaspage@earthlink.net.

E-mail Article Printer Friendly

Share your thoughts, advice, opinions, and expertise @ Officer.com

Submit a comment

http://www.officer.com/print/Law-Enforcement-Technology/Taggers-Beware--The-Writing-is-on-the-Wall/1$26234 (3 of 4)6/27/2009 9:41:03 PM


Taggers Beware: The Writing is on the Wall from Law Enforcement Technology at Officer.com

To purchase single article reprints (minimum 250) for distribution please


contact PARS International at 212-221-9595 x431 or at www.magreprints.
com/quickquote.aspx?ID=cygnus
Product Marketplace Magazines

» Fire Arms & Accessories Law Enforcement


» Electronics & Surveillance Technology
» Books, Videos, Software • Current Issue
» EMS & Safety • Subscribe
» Apparel & Off-Duty Wear • E-Inquiry
» Gifts & Collectibles
Law Enforcement
» Vehicle & Traffic Accessories
Product News
» Duty Gear & Tactical
• Current Issue
• All Products • Subscribe
• E-Inquiry

Forum Web More Jobs


Discussions Gateway Headlines Central

» All » Police » Top »


Discussions Agencies Stories Search
» Public Forums » » Officer Jobs
» For Officers Associations Down »
» Law & Politics » Personal » Internal Browse
» Local Pages Affairs Jobs
Discussions » Supplier » Most » 20
» Equipment & Directory Wanted Newest
Tactical » More » Jobs
» Links Homeland » Career
Communications » Training Defense Forums
Schedule » Funding »
• Register Now & Admin Degree
» Programs
Legislation
» • Kaplan
Industry Criminal
News Justice
» Submit • AIU
News Criminal
Justice

Mountain
State CJ

Advertise on Officer.com | Contact Us | Privacy Statement | User Agreement | Link to Us


Law Enforcement Technology - Law Enforcement Product News - Officer.com e-Alerts
Copyright © 2009 All rights reserved. - Cygnus Interactive, a Division of Cygnus Business Media.

http://www.officer.com/print/Law-Enforcement-Technology/Taggers-Beware--The-Writing-is-on-the-Wall/1$26234 (4 of 4)6/27/2009 9:41:03 PM