Taggers spread gang image

Here's an article about gang graff from my temporary home town:

Des Moines, other cities wrestle with rise in graffiti reports, costly cleanups

October 24, 2006

The writing is on the wall: Des Moines police expect 2006 to be a record year for graffiti.

Officers have fielded 942 graffiti reports this year. That compares with 740 last year, 441 reports in 2004 and 357 in 2003.

"We'll top 1,000 for the first time" this year, Detective Michael Stueckrath said.

Even more disturbing than the damage and the cost of cleaning it up, police say, is the source of the malicious art: street gangs, who are using the spray paint to send messages.

Gang-related graffiti was reported in at least nine locations on a single day last week.

"It's really disturbing," said City Councilman Michael Kiernan, who wants controls on spray-paint sales similar to limits on cold medicines used to make methamphetamine. Kiernan said his proposal has been met with a lukewarm response, but he vowed Monday to look for other solutions.

"It's not the graffiti of old. Now it's gang communication," Kiernan said.

Detectives say street gangs in particular use graffiti to:

- Establish an identity.

- Challenge rivals.

- Bolster egos.

- Memorialize dead members.

- Define territorial boundaries.

- Celebrate violence.

Des Moines police say they will develop a booklet to help residents and neighborhood groups spot and interpret gang graffiti, which they say has become the "newspaper of the streets."

Esta Deever, co-owner of Deever Roofing on Dean Avenue, is already an expert. She said her business has been "tagged" too many times to count.

"We'd be gone over a weekend and come back on Monday, and it would be back," she said. "It would happen so often, I sometimes felt like going out there and spraying it myself just to beat them to it. Police can tell you what gang it was. To us, it was just a lot of work to clean up."

Employees painted over the most recent outbreak a few months ago. And they expect to do it again.

"It's a big, blank wall on a busy street," Deever said.

Graffiti knows no season, and it is a problem in cities big and small, with bridge supports, school buildings, water towers and highway overpasses among vandals' favorite canvasses:

- Nine Davenport juveniles, four parents and two other adults were charged in March in connection with graffiti and street painting in the city.

- West Des Moines police fielded 18 graffiti calls and tallied $11,000 in damage in a single March weekend.

- Paint-wielding vandals in February caused an estimated $60,000 in damage at Wapsie Valley High School in Fairbank.

- Indianola police said members of the Cream Set gang caused nearly $1,000 worth of spray-paint damage at a city park in November.

The uptick in reports corresponds, Des Moines police say, with an increase in gang-related crime. Police have identified 38 street gangs in the city. Oscar "Dreamer" Gonzalez, a 21-year-old member of Aztec Kings, was sentenced in January to 50 years in prison for shooting two men, one a Polk County sheriff's deputy.

The problem is nationwide.

Fed-up officials in Mendocino County, Calif., passed an ordinance last week that provides free graffiti cleanup on private property in an effort to cut communication lines for warring street gangs. Police in Rock Hill, S.C., discovered that an outbreak of graffiti this month reflected a price war of sorts among drug dealers. Parks officials in Lodi, Calif., said 2006 was already a record year for graffiti reports and cleanup costs.

Whether the writings are sandblasted off or painted over, Des Moines taxpayers shell out about $40,000 a year to remove graffiti. They've also spent $5,000 for a solar-powered camera that uses a motion detector and an automated voice to let lawbreakers know they have been caught red-handed.

The tamper-proof mobile camera has been tested in areas where police have received numerous complaints about graffiti and theft. One such area is the Fairgrounds neighborhood, where Scott Denning, owner of DELS Machining at 2018 E. Walnut St., said his business has been targeted more than 10 times in three years.

"I think twice before putting so much money into my property," he said earlier this year. "If it's going to look like garbage all the time, why put more money into it?"

Police found alleged gang graffiti Friday on a garage behind Frances Holmes' house in the 3200 block of East Seventh Street.

"I'm too old to let things like that bother me," Holmes said. "Besides, they've done it three times before and I've had it painted over three times."

The language of the Bloods, Crips, C Block, Norteno, Asian Mafia Family, Eastside Riders, Latin Kings, SUR 13s, La Raza Loca and the Vice Lords can be found virtually all over the city. Even the new pedestrian bridge across Interstate Highway 235 by East High School carries street-gang symbols.

"What can you do?" asked Jose Luis Gonzales, whose garage on the east side of the city displays a profane word in large letters along with gang symbols. "It's been painted over twice. This is the third time. They come in the night. What can you do?"