Getting a grip on graffiti! City slapping taggers with jail time

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Getting a grip on graffiti! City slapping taggers with jail time

CREATED Aug 14, 2012

Reporter: Steve Nuñez
Web Editor: Laura Kittell

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - Graffiti! It's everywhere. And, it's gotten so bad, 9 On Your Side viewers emailed and called to tell us they are growing mad. So, they've asked us to find out what exactly is the city doing or can do to stop this ugly problem that's giving our city a black eye.
Tucson Police estimate vandals tag signs, poles, walls and businesses more than 4,000 times per month.

Recently, we introduced you to Santos Alvarez, a volunteer, who covers up graffiti throughout Midvale Park.

Alvarez told 9 On Your Side he's beyond fed up. He's angry. Alvarez wants the city to take extreme bold action against the taggers.

9 On Your Side Reporter asked Santos at the time: "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."
Cut off their welfare? While only the federal government can do that, Alvarez's point was well taken.  

So, we sat down with city leader Regina Romero to show her the graffiti problem marking up her ward one district.
Nuñez asked: Does that make you angry?

"No, it makes me very upset," said Romero.

There's no doubt, Romero shares Alvarez's frustration. And even though she's only one of six votes on the council, we asked Romero what more should city leaders be held accountable for to stop the growing graffiti problem.  

"You don't even have to spend money to expand a prevention component of a program," said Romero. "We have Channel 12 that can do public service announcements."

Nuñez asked: "Why hasn't that been done up to this point?"

"I know that there's been some effort to do prevention but not as focused as I would like to see with it and to tell you the truth because I think we are overwhelmed," answered Romero. "I think the Tucson police dept and their dept is very specific to finding the criminals."

In other words, city leaders are relying on police and city prosecutors to get the word out on the streets: commit the crime, pay the time.  
Police now stack charges against taggers so prosecutors can then up the charges from a misdemeanor to a felony.
City Leaders hope the recent conviction of 19-year old Cody Bledsoe, who is now serving a 90-day jail sentence, will send a message that deters taggers.

"Now I think we need to take an additional steps to get volunteers to inform youth especially when they're at an early age that graffiti will get you in trouble," said Romero.

Nuñez asked: "Are you just as concerned as santos that there are 1,300 homes within Midvale Park all of those residents and he's the only one who's going out there and cleaning up that graffiti?"

"Right, you know I think Santos is a super hero," said Romero. "We can ask people to help but we can't make them."

Nuñez asked: "Is it fair for the taxpayers to blame elected officials such as yourself for the graffiti problem?"

"There's no one person that is responsible but the tagger," said Romero.

As 9 On Your Side learned, one week after Alvarez painted over graffiti, the taggers returned with a vengeance.  

"I don't know if we can solve the graffiti problem," said Romero as she shook her head. "It's something that's very exasperating and it's very exasperating to mayor and council."

But erasing graffiti is also going to take a lot more Alvarez's to get involved and stay involved.
According to police, most taggers are 18 and older and can legally buy spray paint. That's why targeting paint stores would not be as effective as punishing repeat taggers with a 90-day jail sentence.