Graffiti leaving its ugly mark everywhere you look
Reporter: Steve Nuñez
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - Graffiti! Not only is it ugly, it's everywhere. More and more you'll see the unsightly etchings painted on street signs, bus benches, walls and buildings. And, it's costing you millions of dollars just to clean up. So what's being done to stop taggers from turning our city into a public eyesore?
9 On Your Side Reporter Steve Nuñez drove around town, and as we found out, taggers vandalize all areas of the city, including downtown, east side, west side, north side and south side.
In fact, these punks really don't care about the damage they're causing or the problem they're creating.
Grafitti has now become everybody's problem. It's gotten so bad, the city now spends one million of your hard earned tax-payer dollars to clean it up.
However, city crews are unable to keep up.
So, in many ways, the city relies on neighborhood volunteers like Santos Alvarez.
Five days a week, this retired 73-year old loads up an old grocery basket with a roller brush and a couple buckets of paint and heads out on graffiti patrol.
"I never stop because if I let it stop for a week there's going to be lots of graffiti," said Alvarez.
We tagged along to see for ourselves. From the endless stream of patch work painted on a wash that runs along Drexel to tunnels located near Valencia and Mission, it's quite obvious, Alvarez is one busy man.
"If you don't respect somebody's belongings how are you going to respect yourself," said Alvarez. "How can you be a good person. a good citizen."
9 On Your Side quickly learned, where there are scattered paint cans there's graffiti. Alvarez tells us taggers will often leave some cans with paint so they can come back and tag the same area over and over again.
"Yeah they come back with that one (spray can nozzle) and they put it back and they use it," explained Alvarez.
If not for Alvarez, Midvale Park would be one massive piece of graffiti.
It didn't take Alvarez long to find newly painted graffiti. But before he covers it up with a grey coat of paint, Alvarez snaps a photo to give to police so they can identify the tagger.
Nuñez asked: "You painted over the graffiti today, when do you think it'll be back?"
"The beginning of the next day," answered Alvarez. "Maybe today in the afternoon."
Alvarez says bolder action is the only way to stop graffiti.
Nuñez asked: "What kind of punishment would you like the taggers to get?"
"Well, you know, stop some benefit," said Alvarez. "Some may be on welfare you know."
Most of all, he wants Tucson Police to target stores that sell spray paint.
So we took his concern to Lt. Diana Lopez, head of the graffiti unit.
Nuñez asked: "Will you start to target business owners who sell spray paint illegally to minors?"
"Well, here's what we're finding is that on most, I would say a huge majority of the one's we arrest for graffiti, are not minors," said Lopez.
Surprisingly, Lopez claims most taggers are adults 18 or older.
Therefore, Lopez says it's not illegal for them to buy as much spray paint as they want.
"So at this point it wouldn't be beneficial for us to go in and do a sting." said Lopez.
Instead, Lopez said her unit is focused on prosecuting taggers by stacking cases against them to up the charges from a misdemeanor to a felony.
Lopez points to court records that show the number of graffiti charges have dropped in half, from 181 in 2009, to 96 in 2011.
She says the word is getting out that police mean business.
So far this year, 17 of the 44 taggers arrested face felony charges.
Case in point, a judge recently convicted 19-year old Cody Bledsoe for committing more than 100 acts of vandalism.
It used to be taggers like Bledsoe would only get a slap on the wrist. Today, Bledsoe is serving 90-days in jail.
"We started with a project area about two years ago with the downtown area that was hit the most and we have seen about a 30-40 percent decrease this year in that area," said Lopez.
For Alvarez, there's still one thing missing in getting a grip on the graffiti problem.
"We have about 1,300 houses here and I don't see no volunteers no help," said Alvarez.
Until that happens, Alvarez said he'll keep cleaning up graffiti until he's forced to retire for good.
Alvarez pointed up towards the sky and said, "God knows."
Tucson Police is hosting a community forum that'll take place July 21st at west side police sub-station, 1310 West Miracle Mile. The forum starts at 1:00 P.M.
TPD will discuss ways you can get involved in cleaning up graffiti and help officers catch taggers in your neighborhood.