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Laurie Ender: Wiping out graffiti one tag at a time

Live From City Hall

Posted: February 4, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: February 4, 2012 2:00 a.m.
 

Keeping our city free of graffiti is an important part of preserving community aesthetics, maintaining property values and increasing sales tax revenues. When neighborhoods appear to be broken down, it serves as a magnet for crime and rapid deterioration.

It’s not surprising then that in the United States, approximately $12 billion is spent annually to remove graffiti tags. Los Angeles spends more than $7 million to remove it, and Chicago budgeted $5.5 million for graffiti removal, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Just like many communities across the nation, the city of Santa Clarita allocates valuable time, money and resources to keep our community clean and safe. As a part of our city’s zero-tolerance strategy, the Graffiti Task Force works promptly to remove graffiti from public places within 24 hours of when it’s reported.

The city’s aggressive and comprehensive approach to graffiti includes: efficient removal by a well-trained and inspired work force; effective collaboration with other agencies, including law enforcement; proactive planning; preventative outreach to local youth; and encouraging community involvement.

In 2011, the city’s Graffiti Task Force celebrated a banner year, with 169 arrests and more than 6,333 tags removed from Santa Clarita streets.

A big factor in the success of the city’s graffiti abatement program was and continues to be involvement from community members. This past year, the Graffiti Task Force received more than 3,000 online eService graffiti removal requests and phone calls reported through the graffiti hotline at (661) 25-CLEAN.

The city’s award-winning e-Graffiti database, which features pictures and supporting information relative to the graffiti crimes, was another key component leading to convictions. Since the inception of the database in 2007, more than 1,000 graffiti vandals have been arrested and charged with felony vandalism.

The Graffiti Task Force also works very closely with the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station to develop real-time solutions to graffiti-related issues, as well as enforce and arrest graffiti vandals. In 2011, the Sheriff’s Department graffiti detectives, members of its COBRA unit, and Community Interaction Team conducted compliance checks at 14 home-improvement stores to verify proper storage of spray paint; performed eight surveillance operations using hidden surveillance cameras; and arrested 10 members of a prolific tagging crew. The crew was responsible for more than $70,000 in damages to areas in Canyon Country and Newhall.

Community education and outreach were other ways the Task Force worked to prevent graffiti from rising. This past year, more than 800 students, teachers and parents participated in graffiti awareness presentations from Rio Vista, Helmers, Sierra Vista and Placerita Elementary Schools, Canyon High School and the William S. Hart Union School District’s English Learner Advisory Committee. The presentations included an overview of signs of a tagger, consequences of graffiti vandalism, and what to do if a parent suspects a child of tagging.

Currently, Graffiti Removal staff is working with administrators and students from Valencia High School’s Film class to produce a teen outreach video on the consequences of graffiti vandalism and how to report vandalism using the graffiti hotline.

In addition to proactive efforts, Graffiti Removal staff attended more than 10 restitution hearings to confirm restitution on graffiti vandalism cases in 2011. More than $240,000 dollars was awarded to the city for damages caused by 22 vandals. Staff is currently researching other cities to find additional ways to recover damages. To date, more than $30,000 has been paid to the city.

The city of Santa Clarita also purchased eight high-tech cameras to monitor graffiti hotspots and catch graffiti vandals throughout Santa Clarita. Ten instances of illegal activity and one graffiti vandal have already been caught in the first month alone.

This past year was a strong one for the city’s Graffiti Task Force and we are thankful to each of our local partners who continue to keep Santa Clarita graffiti-free including the city’s residents, Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station, William S. Hart School District, CHP and College of the Canyons.

To report graffiti, contact the city’s Graffiti Hotline at (661) 25-CLEAN (25326) or submit a request online through the city’s eService system. Just look for the “Report Graffiti” tab. Remember, citizens offering information that leads to the conviction for a tagger can receive up to $500 per conviction.

For additional information about the city’s Graffiti Task Force, visit santa-clarita.com/graffititaskforce/.  Laurie Ender is the mayor for the city of Santa Clarita and can be reached at: lender@santa-clarita.com.

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