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Tricks of the tagging trade

City spends vast sums of money for graffiti removal

Posted: February 20, 2009 1:06 a.m.
Updated: February 20, 2009 4:55 a.m.

In this Jan. 17 photo, Evan Bryan, employee of the City of Santa Clarita Graffiti Task Force, cleans up the sides of a vacant building on Soledad Canyon Road between Hidaway Avenue and Crossglade Avenue.

More than $3 million is spent annually to fight graffiti in the Santa Clarita Valley.

That’s money well spent since graffiti is often a gateway to more heinous crimes, according to graffiti expert Spence Leafdale, a 35-year employee with the Los Angeles Police Department.

He spoke as a member of the Canyon Country Advisory Committee Wednesday night on how to “read” graffiti.

Leafdale’s PowerPoint presentation stunned a group of more than 50 residents.

“If you have trouble reading from left to right try looking at the words backwards,” Leafdale said as audience members tried to decipher some graffiti.

“Tags” are the calling cards of graffiti vandals, he said.

“There are five different forms of graffiti,” he said.

Sometimes art graffiti is placed in places with the permission of the property owner and doesn’t constitute a crime, Leafdale said.

Local taggers are usually connected to local gangs and the graffiti is a crime.

The numbers spent on fighting that graffiti are staggering, said Parks and Recreation Director Rick Gould. The city of Santa Clarita spends $600,000 annually fighting graffiti, he said. Local water purveyors and businesses spend the rest of the $3 million annually, Gould said.

Detectives work closely with the city to track taggers, said Lt. Brenda Cambra of the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station.

“We document all the matching tags and when we catch the tagger, we can connect all of his work and charge him with all the crimes,” she said.

Besides damaging property, graffiti leads to larger problems, Leafdale said.

“People who are this brazen will eventually do bolder crimes,” he said.

That crime is usually burglary, he said.

“Graffiti is a gateway crime,” Leafdale said.

Early intervention works.

Leafdale said 85 percent of the taggers caught by law enforcement don’t commit crimes again.

“It’s the other 15 percent we are worried about,” he said.

Graffiti subculture is a violent one where tagging crews fight over space to put their graffiti and names for their crews, Leafdale said.

“If two crews have the same name they’ll fight over it and sometimes those fights can be deadly,” he said.


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