Anti-graffiti initiative may make taggers, parents pay

L.A. County Supervisor Gloria Molina seeks to hit graffiti offenders in the pocketbook: ‘This is tough love all the way around.’
By Andrew Blankstein, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
August 12, 2008
Buoyed by the success of a six-month program to reduce graffiti in Pico Rivera and unincorporated Whittier, Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina will ask her colleagues today to approve a measure that would allow authorities to hold taggers — and their parents — liable for civil damages.

The new ordinance is part of a broad offensive against vandalism, one she hopes to take countywide, by stepping up enforcement, conducting more specialized prosecutions and hitting violators in the pocketbook through property liens and fines of up to $1,000. When warranted, the measure also would allow authorities to seek felony vandalism charges in court.

“This is tough love all the way around,” Molina said. “And we are prepared to go all the way with it and show we mean business.”

The thinking behind the approach, Molina said, is to shake up parents and guardians who are in denial about their children’s actions, unaware of them or simply don’t care. It is another tool to hold the adults accountable, she said.

Los Angeles County spent nearly $30 million last year to clean up graffiti, records show.

But Molina, who said that the actual property damage to businesses and public buildings and infrastructure is far higher, said tagging also had led to violence — and murder.

In one of the most high-profile cases, Robert Whitehead of Valinda was shot to death in 2006 after challenging young gang members he caught crossing out another gang’s graffiti on a neighbor’s garage. Last year, Pico Rivera grandmother Maria Hicks was gunned down after she honked her car horn, flashed her car lights and followed a tagger who had defaced a wall.

The kil#i*ggs led Molina to push for a six-month pilot program in Pico Rivera and unincorporated areas south and west of Whittier.

L.A. County Sheriff’s Capt. Michael J. Rothans said that during that period, there were 168 arrests — 133 minors among them — for tagging that resulted in $345,000 in damage. In Pico Rivera, one suspected graffiti vandal who was arrested last March was believed to be responsible for tags on 100 locations.

Rothans said 41% of the families with suspects under the age of 18 have sought help by agreeing to attend a parenting or intervention program. None of those minors have yet been rearrested, he said.

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