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It will take community effort to battle graffiti
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Graffiti, or more appropriately, "tagging" continues to mar the appearance of communities in this area. It can be found almost everywhere; on building walls, public bathrooms, the streets, canal walls, towers, sidewalks, traffic signs, billboards, parked vans and trucks, railroad cars and sound barriers. It is an unsightly reminder of the criminal element that has established a foothold in our communities and neighborhoods.

Most cities have an aggressive tagging removal program, and if it seems otherwise, it is usually just a matter of letting the proper authorities know. It is well known, that graffiti and tagging, like the accumulation of litter, are things that grow exponentially once it gets started. So it is a standard policy to immediately respond to graffiti complaints. The clean-up workers will document the graffiti (for police investigative purposes) and then remove it with the appropriate chemicals. If left for even more than a few hours, graffiti tends to spawn more of the same, often coming from rival gangs or other territory taggers.

Graffiti is nothing new. In fact, one can argue that the ancient hieroglyphs on the walls of caves amount to nothing more than graffiti. Humans have expressed themselves in this fashion for thousands of years. In the modern context, however, the application of graffiti is illegal because it usually amounts to an act of vandalism and damaging public or private property. It is also doubtful that, thousands of years from now, anthropologists would find any value in the kinds of messages that are routinely conveyed by modern graffiti.

The graffiti of today usually amounts to messages between rival gangs. They use it to mark their territory, much like dogs marking their turf. Graffiti messages frequently also convey death threats and other forms of violence between warring gangs. Regardless of the messages' content, most people hate to see it in their communities because it is unsightly and an everyday stark reminder that violent gang criminals have established themselves almost everywhere.

Because the graffiti problem is so widespread and serious, new "anti-graffiti" paints and wall surfaces have been developed to make removal easier. These new products also make it more difficult for taggers to get their messages to stick to the surfaces they are trying to write on. The police also have a significant role in this. They frequently are able to catch graffiti vandals in the act - usually because a citizen has reported the in-progress crime without delay. We also use cameras and other investigative tools to make an impact on the problem.

The cost of graffiti damage often rises to the felony level with the violators being prosecuted accordingly. Parents of juvenile offenders are fully liable for the damage, which often amounts to thousands of dollars.

There are no indicators suggesting that the problem will lessen in the coming years. In fact, it will likely worsen as gangs grow in size and cover more territory. And as long as popular culture seems to embrace the whole gang milieu, along with accepting (if not applauding) the use of graffiti, there will be no end to the problem. Change will occur when parents take control of their graffiti-artist kids and when society as a whole rails against this kind of behavior. In the meantime, it is important to immediately report persons involved in applying graffiti illegally, the police need to make greater use of cameras and other technology in graffiti-rich areas and local governments absolutely must continue to remove graffiti of all kinds without delay.