ONTARIO – The hands that once held spray cans and markers were cuffed behind a graffiti vandal’s back this week.
In an effort to curtail the area’s graffiti problem, a number of officers from local law enforcement agencies assisted the Ontario Police Department earlier this week during a large-scale enforcement sweep that targeted taggers.
Five people were arrested Wednesday, while officers made more than 20 compliance checks in Ontario.
The eight-hour sweep, which first targeted taggers’ homes and than places with they may do their vandalism, lasted until midnight.
The purpose of the operation to identify taggers and arrest those who haven’t complied with court orders, have a warrant, or are involved in
Frank Lopez of Ontario is taken into custody during a graffiti sweep on Wednesday. Ontario police, aided by other law enforcement agencies, targeted tagging in a sweep on Wednesday. (Thomas R. Cordova Staff Photographer)
vandalism, Ontario Officer Anthony Ortiz said.
Most of the people they targeted Wednesday were adults and what police called “career taggers.”
Sweeps are important because taggers are often unpredictable and can adopt the gang mentality, police said.
“I think it’s important to let the kids know they have to be accounted for. They have to have consequences for what they do,” said Ontario Officer Mario Paredes-Mena, who was a team leader Wednesday. “It’s a stepping stone to something else.”
Ontario spends about $360,000 a year removing graffiti within its city limits. A removal crew is usually out within 24 hours of the reported graffiti to clean it up.
“It is an eyesore for the community,” Ortiz said. “If you just let (the graffiti) go unnoticed, it’ll spin out of control.”
One of the people arrested Wednesday was Frank Lopez, who has a history of tagging, police say, and last year was convicted of vandalism.
Lopez and two friends were sitting on their porch late Wednesday afternoon in the 500 block of East D Street when a number of police cars pulled up.
While some officers handcuffed the three men and started asking questions, others looked in and out of the house for vandalism evidence – anything that would prove they have been tagging or violating the terms of their probation.
On the porch, next to one of the men’s feet, was a shoe box covered in 3-letter monikers. Inside was dozens of pens and markers.
One officer found a wooden stick with graffiti on it. It could be used to attack members of rival gangs who might walk past, Ortiz said.
Sometimes officers will find guns and drugs during a sweep.
“We have to be prepared to deal with anything we come across,” Ortiz said.
Taggers will usually step from simple vandalism into gangs, police said.
“When gangs want to recruit new members, they’ll say, `Let’s hit up some of the violent taggers,”‘ Ortiz said.
Officers have been to Lopez’s house before. In previous visits, graffiti covered the grounds outside, including the alley.
“You can track a tagger to his house because he tags near where he lives,” Ortiz said. “They mark their territory.”
But the property has since been cleaned up. There are only reminders of graffiti, like large, multi-colored cover-up paint spots on a metal trashcan.
A typical tagger’s bedroom will be covered in letters, symbols, names and faces, Ortiz said. Every item is a canvas – lotion bottles, fans, boxes, dressers, papers, cds, even blankets.
Taggers will use spray paint, markers, and pens as well as a hard object – like a knife or nails – and acid etching
Sgt. Brian Ventura of the Montclair Police Department searches Lopez. (Thomas R. Cordova Staff Photographer)
material. They mark bus windows, glass, sidewalks, freeway signs, walls, fences and more.
“You know how people are addicted to drugs? These guys are addicted to tagging,” Ortiz said.
More than 20 officers from Ontario, Chino, Montclair, and San Bernardino police departments went out on the sweep, along with San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies from the Rancho Cucamonga station and San Bernardino probation officials.
The officers are part of the West End Graffiti Task Force, which meets quarterly to talk about enforcement strategies targeting graffiti vandals.
Some of the addresses police officers visit during a sweep don’t work out. The suspects are at work, it was an old address, the suspect has moved or no one was home.
If that’s the case, officers go on to the next house.
If family members are home, they are told to have the suspect contact the police.
“They never do,” Ortiz said.
But the sweeps in general are successful.
“It just depends,” Ortiz said. “It’s like fishing. But sometimes, if you just arrest a few, the word gets out there (that the police are working.)”
As the temperature got cooler and the sun went down on the sweep, officers switched their search tactics to “proactive” – going to parks and other places where taggers would be.
“The first part of the night was target specific,” said Ontario Officer Sharouz Sadeghian, who was another team leader. “We go to a specific location and check to see if they’re there.”
After that, officers started roaming, looking for someone who is walking with a marker or in the act of tagging.
“In this detail, the main idea is to look for graffiti,” Sadeghian said.