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Getting a grip on graffiti
At the tail end of a marathon city council session last week, councilman Roy Runyon wondered aloud whether or not the mayor and her administration need more direction in dealing with Bremerton’s graffiti problem.
“The administration is trying to deal with this and we’ve got citizens out there that want action,” Runyon said. “I think the council needs to, at some point weigh in and say, ‘Hey, administration we wanna make this a priority. What’s it gonna cost to achieve these goals?’ So, I’m just gonna suggest that. If the council doesn’t think it’s that important, well, I think that helps everybody not spend as much energy as people are spending on it.”
Councilwoman Leslie Daugs, who sits on the public safety and parks committee, agreed.
“I’d like to move on the graffiti issue as well, but the chief was not there (at the most recent public safety committee meeting) to discuss it,” she said.
Mayor Patty Lent, though, said that she and the police department are addressing the city’s graffiti problem head-on.
“Don’t think that we’re ignoring the graffiti,” she said.
Mayor Lent noted that there have been a few graffiti prosecutions so far this year and that volunteers paint over graffiti one weekend only to have it re-tagged by the next weekend. She and City Attorney Roger Lubovich also noted that trying to catch taggers in the act, in order to successfully prosecute them, is not at all easy.
“I think cameras are the way to do it, but it’s not going to change overnight,” Lent said.
Bremerton Police Department Lieutenant Pete Fisher later said that combating graffiti is a priority for police officers. He said the department has an officer on second and third watches tasked with graffiti investigations, along with the added benefit of a detective to assist when needed. He said the night shifts also use bikes and other techniques to actively seek out these crimes.
“The main challenge in a city with over 55,000 calls for service a year is prioritizing the seriousness of crimes and addressing each with appropriate response,” Fisher said. “Crimes like tagging are easy to commit and since they take just seconds to accomplish even harder to prevent. Those charged and convicted continue to re-offend. The other issue is that many taggers will copy or put up their friend’s monikers so prosecutors are reluctant to charge crimes when we do not have a witness, video or other evidence.”
Fisher said that tagging is happening in various areas of the city, but there are three areas that have more reported incidents: Wheaton way between the 4200 block and 1900 block; Pacific Avenue between 6th Street and Burwell Street; and Callow Avenue between Burwell and 6th Street.
So far this year, there have have been 43 reported cases of graffiti, Fisher said.
“We have identified eight possible suspects from those cases,” he added.
Fisher also said that officers follow up on leads as they develop and that the department has created a system that allows officers to “group incidents of similar tagging and potentially close multiple cases when we develop probable cause to make an arrest.”
In addition, police are continuing bike patrols to identify taggers and working with business and property owners that already have surveillance cameras.
“We have assigned specific officers to track and keep records on all graffiti incidents and they communicate with other jurisdictions looking for commonalities and to identify taggers that migrate to several different areas,” Fisher said. “We are reviewing camera capabilities specifically designed to capture these type of crimes.”
- Reported cases of graffiti between January and mid-July and one year totals:
- 2009: 39/50
- 2010: 20/56
- 2011: 70/126
- 2012: 43/?
- Bremerton police made one graffiti arrest in 2010. In 2011, the department made eight arrests. So far this year, officers have made two arrests and identified people that they believe are responsible in a total of eight cases.