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LAPD has new system to help combat graffiti

March 4, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
The city of Los Angeles is launching a new assault on the ongoing war on graffiti. It's a photo tracking system.

In some neighborhoods the graffiti seems to be everywhere. Often the vandalism includes gang messages that encourage even more crime.

Now police in Los Angeles finally feel they have a solution.

"We can identify them quickly," said LAPD Asst. Chief Michel Moore. "We can communicate to our partners, agencies around us. And they can communicate back to whom that suspect is, so they can afford a quicker arrest and more intensive prosecution."

The tracking program was started by the Orange County Sheriff's Department. Using a digital camera on a GPS cell phone, deputies are able to build a database of taggers across the region, which can then be used to build a criminal case.

"You know it's ironic that we are using smartphones to catch dumb criminals," said Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich. "It is amazing that this tagger in that database is going to give us the tools we need."

Authorities are not expecting a lot of arrests from the program, but a few important busts could make a huge difference.

"We've been told that it's a few guys who cause a majority of the graffiti," said City Councilmember Jose Huizar. "So if we track those guys down, get the evidence, send it over to the attorney's office, have them prosecuted, and hopefully ask them to pay some restitution. This would really go a long way in knocking down graffiti citywide."

Technology may finally be turning the tide on a problem that has plagued communities for decades - taking taggers off the street and giving cleanup crews and city budgets a break.

The city is currently spending about $10 million a year to clean up graffiti. If the program is able to cuts that spending down by just 10 percent, it will more than pay for itself in just the first year.